Climate Crisis and the Environment

The Mobile Medals Of Tokyo 2020

Photo of the Olympic rings in front of flags from different countries
Izzy Rodney

The Olympic games have just passed, and we were quite victorious, winning 65 medals in total: 22 gold, 21 silver and 22 bronze! But do you know what these Olympic medals for Tokyo 2020 were actually made of?

This year for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games, it was decided by the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic games that there would be a “Tokyo 2020 Medal Project”. This involved the collection of small electronic devices such as used mobile phones to make 5000 new medals. They were collected from all across Japan and this project made Tokyo 2020 not only the first in the history of the Olympic and Paralympic games to create medals using recycled metals, but also the first to have their citizens involved in such a scheme where they could help in the design and production of the medals.

“The gold, silver and bronze medals awarded to athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games not only represent the greatest honour for the athletes but also an opportunity for Japan to showcase its culture and charm to the rest of the world.”

The project began in April 2017, lasting two years, with the intention of making 5000 medals from unwanted electronic devices including mobile phones. Whilst there was some flexibility over the design of the new Tokyo 2020 medals, the International Olympic Committee stipulated that some features still remained such as the Olympic five rings symbol, Nike (the Greek goddess of victory) in front of the Panathinaikos Stadium and the official name of the respective games: Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020.

This project was such a great opportunity to bring change and raise awareness

Approximately 78,985 tons were collected by municipal authorities across Japan and 6.21 million used mobile phones were collected by NTT Docomo shops.

This project was such a great opportunity to bring change and raise awareness, especially with the current climate crisis and how important it is to be sustainable in our every-day lives. The goal of this project was that by recycling smaller consumer electronics, it would contribute towards a more ‘environmentally friendly, sustainable society…[and] will become a legacy of the Tokyo 2020 Games’.

Moreover, it is important to realise that a great amount of our electronic goods are usually not recycled properly and are prone to being left in a drawer or placed in the rubbish – and if the latter happens, it leads to them being transported to landfill sites, resulting in further damage to our environment.

Olympic medals were previously composed of pure gold until 1912

A top tip: if you want to dispose of your mobile phone, do so by reselling or giving them to charities and organisations that can refurbish or recycle them for you! Up to 80% of a phone is recyclable!

There has been debate over these new Olympic medals, especially the gold medals – which Olympians strive to achieve – as they are not made from pure gold but instead are mostly composed of silver; with the ratio being 98.8% silver to 1.2% gold.

Interestingly, Olympic medals were previously composed of pure gold until 1912. After the First World War, countries swapped to manufacturing the medals from silver with a covering of gold. Six grams of gold is needed for each Olympic medal and it takes between 35-40 recycled phones to acquire just one gram of gold.

So, whilst this project was a new encouraging start for organisations to recognise the importance of sustainability, it also emphasised the amount of electronic waste Japan generated. It was estimated that ‘the number of devices donated as part of this project represents just 3% of the country’s yearly electronic waste.’ And whilst we are living in the UK, this acts as an important reminder to try and not be wasteful in all areas of living. This is just one example of how we can make a difference through tiny acts of service for our environment!

Izzy Rodney

Featured Photo by Thomas Cizauskas from Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image 1 courtesy of olympics via No changes were made to this image.

In-article image 2 courtesy of franckfaugere via No changes were made to this image.

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