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Olympic medals made from recycled electronics finally get a chance to shine

Chinese air rifle shooter Qian Yang became the first athlete to receive a gold medal at the delayed 2020 Tokyo Games just hours after the first events kicked off on Saturday. She’s also the first-ever athlete to receive a gold medal made from recycled electronics.

Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Medals

With the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee announcing more than four years ago its intention to make the medals using precious metals harvested from donated electronics, and Japan’s Olympics delayed by 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Tokyo Games’ first award ceremony using the unique medals has been a long time coming.

During the medal-making campaign that asked members of the public to donate discarded devices, the organizing committee was deluged with everything from smartphones and digital cameras to handheld gaming consoles and laptops.

In just 18 months the campaign received 47,488 tons of equipment, as well as more than 5 million mobile phones handed in at stores run by local cell phone provider NTT.

Its quest to make some 5,000 medals for Japan’s Olympic and Paralympic Games got off to a great start when organizers reached the targeted amount of bronze of around 2,700 kg within just 14 months of the campaign’s launch. After 18 months, the committee revealed that 28.4 kg of gold (93.7% of the targeted 30.3 kg) and 3,500 kg of silver (85.4% of the targeted 4,100 kg) had been collected from donations, with the campaign able to reach its goals by the time it ended in March 2019.

Helping to launch the campaign four years ago, Japanese Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Kohei Uchimura said, “Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic medals will be made out of people’s thoughts and appreciation for avoiding waste. I think there is an important message in this for future generations.”

This year’s Games is the first Olympics and Paralympics to have all of the awarded medals created from recycled materials, though it’s worth noting that the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, took a similar path, with 30% of the sterling silver used to make the gold and silver medals extracted from recycled materials that included old car parts, mirror surfaces, and X-ray plates. Whether Paris 2024 follows the example of the two preceding Olympic Games remains to be seen.

As for Chinese champion Yang, the athlete scored another first on Saturday when she became the first-ever Olympic winner to present her own medal by taking it from a disinfected tray and putting it around her neck — a procedure deemed necessary for the entirety of this Games as part of coronavirus measures.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Tokyo unveils its 2020 Olympic medals made entirely from recycled electronics
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Medals

The organizing committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics officially unveiled its Olympic medal designs this week. While on the surface they might look like any other medal, these will be made from something a little different: recycled electronics.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Medals
In April 2017 the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee launched a campaign to collect old electronics from the public for the project. The metals for the medals were then harvested from those donated electronics. Many electronics, especially cell phones, contain small amounts of precious metals like silver, gold, and platinum.
Earlier this year the Olympic Committee announced they were on track to complete the project as planned. All told, it collected over 47,488 tons of discarded devices, and over 5 million used cell phones. Ultimately it was able to extract 32kg (70.5 pounds) of gold, 3,500kg (7,716 pounds) of silver, and 2,200kg (4,850 pounds) of bronze from the devices it collected.
The targeted amount of bronze -- some 2,700kg -- was already extracted from the donations by June of last year. 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.
Donated devices ran the gamut.  The collection included smartphones, digital cameras, handheld gaming consoles, and laptops, among other electronic devices. The devices were collected across about 2,400 NTT DOCOMO stores in Japan as well as 1,594 municipal authorities across Japan.
“The project has offered the public an opportunity to play an important role in the Games’ preparations,” stated February’s announcement that the group’s collection efforts had been met. The Olympic Committee says that beyond helping them build the medals, the collection draws attention to the importance of sustainability, which is also the slogan for the Olympics in 2020: “Be better, together -- for the planet and the people.”
Previous Olympic medals have used recycled materials in their contraction, but Tokyo claims that 2020 will be the first Olympics where the gold medals will be made using entirely recovered metal.
“Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic medals will be made out of people’s thoughts and appreciation for avoiding waste. I think there is an important message in this for future generations,” Japan’s three-time Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Kohei Uchimura said in 2017 when the recycling plan was first introduced.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic medals will each be 85mm in diameter and measure 7.7mm at their thinnest and 12.mm at their thickest parts.
The medals aren’t made entirely out of their respective precious metal and are instead plated in it. The gold medal, for instance, uses 6 grams of gold plating to get their gold coloring.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics kick off in roughly a year, on July 24 and run through August 9, 2020.

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