The 2020 Olympic Games are shaping up to be pretty memorable. Specifically, the next event is going to full of a lot of firsts. While many of us might be looking forward to the first-ever Olympics featuring competitive surfing, it’s the medals themselves that are getting a lot of recent attention. The Olympic committee recently announced that all the medals at the 2020 Games will be made from recycled electronics.
Cellphones and other small electronic devices are built using small amounts of precious metals, including silver, gold, and platinum. Environmentalists in Japan brought the idea to the Olympic Committee to extract these precious metals from discarded devices and use them to make the medals for next year’s Games. It’s an ingenious plan, and it serves two major purposes. First, it’s a fantastic example of a global entity going green, and a major win for environmentalists. At the same time, it’s helping raise awareness as to just how much waste is generated each year when it comes to mobile electronics. It’s estimated that in Japan alone, nearly 650K tons of electronics are tossed out each year. Only about a 6th of that is recycled.
The idea for the recycled medals was initially pitched in 2016 by a group of Japanese environmentalists. The plan was put into place in 2017 when the Olympic Committee started encouraging Japanese citizens to drop off their unused electronics at any one of more than 2,400 NTT Docomo stores.
For the plan to work, the Committee needed a lot of phones and devices to be turned in; the devices only have very small traces of precious metals. In fact, to make the 5,000 medals needed to award the Olympic athletes competing next year, 8 tons of material will need to be gathered in order to extract enough gold, silver, and bronze.
The good news is that within a month of the announcement, Japanese citizens had turned in nearly 80,000 tons of devices, which yielded more than enough of the metals to make all of the Olympic medals needed for next year’s Games.
The recycled medals are helping set a serious precedent within the Games, and hopefully, it will become the standard for all future Olympic events.