Japan is using recycled metals from electronics to make 2020 Olympic medals

In an effort to produce sustainable medals for the 2020 Olympic Games, Japan undertook an initiative to recycle all the necessary metals from discarded electronics. This month, they achieved complete success.

An estimated 5,000 medals of bronze, silver and gold are expected to be awarded to athletes from around the globe next summer, but rather than waste new materials to produce them, Japan is recycling materials instead.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games launched the initiative in 2017 to collect discarded and obsolete electronic devices such as smartphones and laptops to harvest the metals necessary to produce the metals.

And that’s particularly important because we currently generate 40 million tons of electronic waste every year, which is a huge waste of resources that could be recycled and reused.

“As of November 2018, about 2,400 NTT DOCOMO stores and a total of 1,594 municipal authorities across Japan were acting as collection centers for discarded devices,” the committee reported in a February press release. “Approximately 47,488 tons of discarded devices had been collected by municipal authorities across Japan and over 5 million used mobile phones handed in at NTT DOCOMO stores as of October 2018.”

“The targeted amount of bronze – some 2,700kg – was already extracted from these by June of last year,” the report continued. “By October 2018, 28.4kg of gold (93.7% of the targeted 30.3kg) and 3,500kg of silver (85.4% of the targeted 4,100kg) had been sourced from the donated devices.”

Bringing attention to the “importance of sustainability” is the ultimate goal of the project so that we can make the planet better and reduce waste.

And now, the committee has reached 100 percent of their goal and will be able to produce every single medal using recycled materials.

“Next year, Tokyo 2020 champions will be awarded the first sustainable medals ever to be produced in Olympic history!” the committee said in a statement. “The campaign garnered an overwhelming response since it started — from local communities to Tokyo 2020 partners — supporting the nationwide collection. This initiative — the first of its kind in the Olympic and Paralympic Games — will help people across Japan and the rest of the world share in the success of the world’s top athletes.”

And that’s not all. In addition to metals being recycled to produce the medals, Japan is also taking aim at the plastics crisis by recycling plastics for use in other aspects of the 2020 Olympic Games.

“Tokyo 2020 is also planning to recycle household plastic waste and marine plastic waste and use them in the creation of podiums for medal ceremonies,” the statement said. “Moreover, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Torch Relay uniforms will be produced in part using recycled plastic bottles.”

Furthermore, the ribbons used with the medals will also be made using recycled materials.

The Olympic Games is an event that is watched by hundreds of millions of viewers around the globe. This is an opportunity to educate the worldwide public about sustainability and recycling in an effort to inspire other nations to do the same in their every day lives. The 2020 Games could be a game-changer that does something magnificent beyond sports to unite us behind the cause of saving the Earth. Because without the Earth, there would be no more Olympic Games.

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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