For the first time in the history of the Olympics, the medals at the Tokyo Olympics are made out of recycled electrical goods, mostly smartphones, laptops.
“Athletes at #Tokyo2020 will be presented with medals composed of recycled electronic devices, including discarded laptops and smartphones,” #Tokyo2020 for India tweeted.
‘Tokyo Medal Project’
Two years before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, the organizing committee launched the ‘Tokyo Medal Project’.
The main objective of the project was to recycle old electronic gadgets such as smartphones and laptops to produce the Olympic Medals that are being awarded at the Tokyo Games.
Opportunity for the people of Japan
For the people of Japan, the project offered a unique opportunity to be a part of the Games.
“The campaign called on the public to donate obsolete electronic devices for the project,” Toyko 2020 spokesperson Hitomi Kamizawa told DW. “We are grateful for everyone’s cooperation.”
The project capitalized on the fact that billions worth of precious metals such as gold and silver which are used in electronic devices are being dumped or burnt instead of ensuring that they are properly collected and recycled.
The recycling process
There was a two-year national effort in Japan to collect enough recycled material to produce about 5,000 bronze, silver, and gold medals for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In just 18 months, the campaign received tons of equipment, and also, more than 5 million mobile phones were handed.
Up to 90 percent of Japanese cities, towns, and villages participated by setting up donation pick-up sites where thousands of Japanese citizens donated their old electronic devices.
Success of the campaign
The recycling campaign produced 70 pounds of gold, 7,700 pounds of silver, and 4,850 pounds of bronze and all these were from nearly 80 tons of small electrical devices such as old phones and laptops, said Kanazawa.
The metal project wasn’t that straightforward
Although recycling efforts like these often seem straightforward, the medal project had to engage the national government, thousands of municipalities, companies, schools, and other local communities.
One of the primary companies involved was Renet Japan Group whose business philosophy revolves around sustainability.
“We developed a waste management movement for the medal project with the cooperation of many stakeholders, from the Japanese government to local communities,” Toshio Kamakura, director of Renet Japan Group, told DW.
Collecting the used devices was just the first step followed by other steps like dismantling, extracting, and refining by contractors, and then the recycled materials were molded into Junichi Kawnishi’s design concept.
The broader scenario
While the Japanese will be the first to have all of the Olympic medals made out of recycled material, the concept is not new.
In the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, 30% of the sterling silver to make the gold and silver medals were obtained from recycled materials such as car parts and mirror surfaces.
Looking towards the Paris Games in 2024, where the main themes are going to be social change and enhancing the environment, there are hopes that the Tokyo 2021 Medal Project will set an example.
According to the United Nations, 53.6 million tons (Mt) per person of electronic waste — was produced globally in 2019, making it the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream.
Less than a fifth of the scrap ends up being properly collected and recycled, posing serious environmental and health risks.