Tokyo Olympic Medals were recycled

Olympic Sustainability through recycling

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Recycling effort

The Olympic podium is filled with athletes who, bowing slightly, place their medals around their necks. They will be euphoric to have been among the top three. The Tokyo Medal Project will be very pleased that the Olympic medals were there. This is  because the Gold, Silver and Bronze precious metals that they are made from were recycled!

Electronic gadgets to medals

This project used old electronic gadgets like smartphones and laptops. Creating the Olympic Medals that are being awarded at the Tokyo Games (currently being held).

The project provided a unique opportunity for Japan to participate in the Games.

Public donations

Hitomi Kamizawa, spokesperson for Tokyo 2020, said that the campaign asked the public to donate old electronic devices to the project. “We are grateful to everyone for their cooperation.”

The project capitalized on the fact that billions worth of precious metals such as gold and silver, which are used in electronic devices, get discarded each year globally. Thanks to people simply dumping or burning their gadgets instead of ensuring they are properly collected and recycled.

A supply chain for recycling

There was a two-year concerted effort in Japan to collect enough recycled material to produce approx. 5,000 bronze, silver, and gold medals for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Nearly 90% of Japanese towns and cities participated in setting up donation pick-up points where countless Japanese citizens gave their electronic devices to the Olympic cause.

The campaign resulted in 70 pounds (32 kgs) of gold and 7,700 pounds of sterling, as well as 4,850 pounds of bronze. Kamizawa said that the recycling campaign involved nearly 80 tons small electrical devices, such as old laptops and phones.

Participation and commitment

Although these recycling efforts may seem simple, the medal project required the participation of the national government, thousands of schools, businesses, and municipalities.

Renet Japan Group, whose business philosophy revolves on sustainability, was one of the principal companies involved.

Toshio Kamakura (Director of Renet Japan Group) stated that he developed a waste management system for the medal project in collaboration with many stakeholders.

Project Launch

The project launched in April 2017 with just 600 municipalities participating. This number had increased to over 1,600 by the time the project was completed in March 2019. Kamakura stated that there was a significant public relations campaign and collection points were established throughout Japan to facilitate people contributing.

The Japanese phone operator NTT DoCoMo collected approximately 6.2 million handsets

Collection of devices

The first step was to collect the devices. After a lengthy process of extracting, reworking, and storing the materials by contractors, Junichi Kawnishi was able to mould the material into Junichi Kawnishi’s design concept. This design beat out 400 others in a Tokyo 2020 competition.

The larger picture

Although the Japanese will be first to have all Olympic medals made from recycled material, this concept is not new. 30% of the sterling gold and silver medals made from silver and gold were created in Rio 2016 Olympic Games using recycled materials like car parts and mirror surfaces.

The Tokyo 2020 Medal Project is a precedent to be set, as we look ahead to the Paris Games 2024, which will feature social change and environmental stewardship.

Environmentally sustainable

Kamakura believes it is essential to keep working on the environment in order to create a more sustainable society.

According to the United Nations, a record 53.6million tons (Mt) of electronic waste was produced in 2019. This makes it the fastest-growing domestic waste stream worldwide. It is equivalent to 350 cruise ships as large as the Queen Mary 2. In the last five years, e-waste has risen by more than a fifth due to growing demand for electronic devices with short life cycles that have few repair options.

Only 20% of scrap is properly collected and recycled, which poses serious health and environmental risks not just for our generation for future generations as well.

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