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Resource-poor Japan unearths metal riches in its trash

Nation's discarded electronics seen to contain more gold than South African deposits

Abandoned smartphones contain precious metals that can be reused. (Photo by Takaki Kashiwabara)

TOKYO -- As mines around the world slow output in response to the coronavirus pandemic, threatening tighter supplies of precious metals, one resource-poor country is ready to step into the void: Japan.

Mountains of discarded electronics here contain tons of not only gold and silver, but also such industrial metals as the lithium crucial to making electric cars. In terms of gold alone, these hidden reserves are estimated at around 6,800 tons -- more than the underground deposits in South Africa.

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