The Olympics of Recycling | weatherology°
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By: Meteorologist Michael Karow
Updated: Aug 2nd 2021

The Olympics of Recycling

53.6 million tons, that’s the amount of electronic waste produced globally in just one year, back in 2019. As the worldwide market for electronic gadgets like smartphones, tablets, and laptops continues to grow, their relatively short lifespans, limited ability to be repaired, combined with low rates of recycling is leading to an increase in this e-waste. One initiative, though, looks to not only cut down on e-waste, but also put these recycled materials to good use. The very Olympic medals that can be seen being awarded to the outstanding athletes in the Tokyo Olympics are in fact made out of recycled e-waste material.

The Japanese project, called the Tokyo Medal Project, collected small electronic devices from April 2017 to March 2019. Up to 90% of Japanese municipalities participated by setting up donation sites where people could donate their unwanted electronic devices.  In total, the recycling effort resulted in 70 pounds (32 kg) of gold being collected, along with 7,700 pounds (3,493 kg) of silver, and 4,850 pounds (2,200 kg) of bronze. Total weight of the electronic devices turned in was 80 tons.

The Tokyo Medal Project took the cooperation of government, municipalities, private companies, and schools to be successful. While not an entirely new idea, as back in 2016, 30% of the silver in the Rio Olympic Games medals was sourced from recycled materials, the 2020 Tokyo Games marks the first time that the medals are entirely made from recycled material. Hopefully, this will be a trend for future Olympic Games, with the next ones set for Paris in 2024.

e-waste recycle plant Milich Getty
An employee examines e-waste waiting to be recycled at a plant in Holliston, Massachusetts - [Zoran Milich, Getty Images]
Tokyo 2020 gold medal
Final design of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics gold medal - [Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games]