Olympic Medals to Be Made From Recycled Electronics

©. Medals for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games unveiled during a ceremony marking one year before the start of the games in Tokyo on July 24, 2019. (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Tokyo 2020's organizing committee will transform old smartphones, laptops, and digital cameras into a true treasure.

The medals for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games have just been unveiled, and they are masterpieces of recycled materials. The gold, silver, and bronze medals are all made entirely from materials extracted from discarded and obsolete smartphones and other electronic devices that were donated for this purpose.

The Olympic organizing committee in Japan has been collecting electronic devices since 2017 in order to extract enough material to make 5,000 medals. Municipal offices across Japan acted as collection centers and, by October 2018, had received nearly 48,000 tons of old phones, digital cameras, handheld games, and laptops. From a press release:

"The targeted amount of bronze – some 2,700kg – was already extracted from these 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."

Inhabitat reports that Olympic medals have not been made of solid gold since Stockholm 1912, but that regulations stipulate a minimum quantity of each metal: "The Tokyo medals will feature six grams of gold plating with a silver interior. The silver medal is... pure silver and the bronze is a blend of copper and zinc." The medals also contain an image of Nike, Greek goddess of victory, portrayed in front of the Panathinaikos Stadium, the name of the Games, and the five Olympic rings.

The design for 2020 was created by artist Junichi Kawanishi, whose use of upcycled materials caught the eye of the organizing committee out of more than 400 competing entries. Sustainability got a nod when the Brazil 2016 games featured mercury-free gold, but these all-recycled ones take it to another, more impressive level.

The medal ribbon is made of recycled polyester, and there are plans to use recycled household and marine plastic waste to make the podiums used in the medal ceremonies.