Japan to Create Eco-Friendly Medals for 2020 Olympics

Olympic medals.
Green Living

While the 2016 Olympics have just drawn to a close, Tokyo is gearing up to take the stage for the 2020 Olympics. Taking an eco-friendly approach, Japan is hoping to create medals out of old cell phones. [1]

Recycling is already pretty popular in Japan, but e-waste is something people don’t often think about. For example, the UN reported that Japan had 46 million tons of e-waste in 2014 due to discarded technology. About 650,000 tons are from smaller electronics and home appliances that have been thrown out, with only about 100,000 tons of it being recycled.

Enter one timely solution: creating Olympic medals from the waste found in these discarded cell phones.

Each medal doesn’t even require that much material, and it would be incredibly simple for Japan to make all of the awards out of the e-waste. A gold medal contains about 1 pound of silver and 0.01 pounds of gold. In 2014, Japan recovered 3,452 pounds of silver from small electronic goods alone, making the project more than feasible.

Staff writer for the website Nikkei, Ken Sakakibara states that for the 2012 London Olympics, the committee used 9.6kg of gold, 1,210 kg of silver, and 700kg of copper (which is used to make bronze) to create the most coveted awards in sports. By comparison, Japan was able to recover 143kg of gold, 1,566 kg of silver, and 1,112 tons of copper from small electronic devices.

Most of the time, Olympic medals are donated by local mine companies who provide the materials, however, a June 10 meeting stated that Japan was looking toward a more sustainable future that would include using recycled materials as much as possible.

And while Japan does have a “gold mine” of precious metals hidden in discarded electronics, the lack of awareness and public cooperation makes collection a public issue. The Environment Ministry has asked that each municipality collect up to 1kg per person in small consumer electronics, but many don’t even end up collecting 100 grams per head.


Often times, these electronics are sent off to developing countries where they sit in landfills, pollute waterways or pollute public spaces. Although outsourcing trash is illegal, it is done anyway.

Japan hopes that by kickstarting this initiative, they will be able to raise global awareness of the issue, in addition to using sustainable products for their winning Olympians.


[1] Huffington Post