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Gold, Silver and Bronze go green in 2020

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games announce medals to be made entirely from recycled materials

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Image Credit: Glen Lubbert

The organisers behind the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have come up with an innovative idea to improve the sustainability of the games: making the medals out of 100 per cent recycled materials.

All medals awarded at next summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games will be made from recycled electronic waste, such as old laptops, mobile phones, and tablets. To create the 5000 medals which will be awarded to podium-placing athletes, Tokyo 2020 needed to collect 30.3 kilograms of gold, 4100 kilograms of silver, and 2700 kilograms of bronze, with a project beginning in Japan in 2017 to collect enough metal for the medals. The bronze target was met in June 2018, while as of last October more than 90 per cent of the required gold and 85 per cent of the required silver had been collected, according to organisers.

Collections were closed at the end of last month, indicating organisers have been successful in collecting enough metal to ensure medals are entirely recycled. A tonne of old mobiles can yield up to 300g of gold according to Umicore, a Belgian mining company. While this is the first time the Olympic Games is planning to have 100 per cent recycled medals, medals created from partially recycled metal were awarded in Rio, where an estimated 30 per cent of bronze and silver medals were created from recycled metals. According to organisers, this is, however, the first time a project had been launched to get citizens proactively involved in donating their used electronics, with recycled metal being collected from the general public as well as businesses.

An approximate 67 180 tonnes of old electronic devices have been collected, while approximately 5.75 million used mobile phones have been donated by the Japanese public at NTT DOCOMO shops, a Japanese phone operator company. Over one and a half thousand municipal authorities (over 90 per cent of Japanese municipal authorities) have been involved in the project, with over $3 million worth of metal having been donated. The Tokyo 2020 Committee has yet to reveal the design of the games’ medals, which is set to be announced this summer.

In a statement on the project, organisers said: “The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee is actively working with project participants, NTT DOCOMO, the Japan Environmental Sanitation Centre, the Ministry of the Environment and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, to realise a sustainable society and secure the Olympics and Paralympics legacy.”

Ashton Eaton, retired decathlon athlete who gained gold medals at London 2012 and Rio 2016 expressed his delight at the new scheme: “thanks to the Tokyo 2020 medal project, not only do the athletes inspire with their stories, but each medal itself has a story of its own! The best part is that each citizen has a chance to contribute to the story, to raise awareness about a sustainable future and to make a unique contribution. And, most excitingly, they have a chance to be part of the Olympic journey.

“The weight of a medal around your neck is always a good weight. And when an athlete at Tokyo wins a medal, the weight of it will not be from the gold, silver or bronze; it will be the weight of a nation. The awesomeness of this project makes me want to come out of retirement and compete for one.”

The decision to make Tokyo 2020’s medals from recycled electronics marks the movement of the IOC into a new age of envrionmentally friendly initiatives in sport

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