The medals for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are made from recycled electronics, including mobile phones, digital cameras, games, and laptops.
One year from the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020, the gold, silver and bronze medal winning design was chosen, to be made from recycled consumer electronics mined over the past two years.
In 2014, Japan recovered 143 kg of gold, 1,566 kg of silver and 1,112 tons of copper, an essential component in bronze, from electronic waste. According to data from the 2012 London Olympics, it took 9.6 kg of gold, 1,210 kg of silver and 700 kg of copper to make all the medals. Generally, the host cities of the games ask the mines to donate the materials, but Japan does not want to follow that path.
Japan put in place a collection system for consumer electronic waste, and passed a law in 2013 that mandates recycling of household appliances, but it hasn’t been as effective as lawmakers hoped. Recycled precious metals are also used to produce new electronic devices, with silver being the one in highest demand.
Two years ago, Tokyo launched the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project as part of its efforts to make the 2020 Summer Olympics the most environmentally friendly and sustainable games to date. The project received donations from 1,300 educational institutions and 2,100 electronics stores in Japan. The country also installed yellow donation boxes at post offices and on street corners across the country, while an association allowed consumers to donate their old phones.
The Olympic Committee reported that more than 90% of local authorities in Japan participated in the initiative with a total of 78,985 tons of discarded devices. It included 6.21 million used mobile phones, as well as digital cameras, handheld video game consoles, and laptop computers. Everything was sorted, disassembled and cast to create the Olympic medals. The project was completed in late March with Japan collecting 30.3 kg of gold, 4,100 kg of silver, and 2,700 kg of bronze.
Medals aren’t the only way Japan is trying to create the most environmentally friendly games the world has ever seen. The uniforms for the Olympic torch relay are made in part from recycled plastic bottles, while the victory ceremony podiums will be made from recycled plastic from domestic and marine waste.
The citizens of Japan contributed about 45 tons of plastic from their homes to develop the 100 podiums. Organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project hope to keep the momentum going, in which Japanese entrepreneurs, authorities and the public will donate household appliances so the metal can be used to help the community, including creating medals for local sports in the country.
Tokyo is not the first to use recycled waste to make Olympic medals. Brazil used it in the 2016 games to win about 30% of their silver and bronze medals.