The Olympics may be where the world’s best athletes showcase their skills, but it’s also a chance for hosting countries to show off the best of their culture and hopes of what the world could become. Next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo is no different.

In preparation for the event, many of Japan’s residents partook in the “Tokyo 2020 Medal Project” – a two-year-long nationwide effort to collect discarded electronic devices (mobile phones in particular) to craft the Olympic and Paralympic medals for the 2020 winners.

By extracting the small amounts of gold, silver, and bronze found in these recycled electronics, those who participated were impressively able to help produce the roughly 5,000 medals needed for the event.

tokyo recycled medals
image source: NTT Docomo, Inc.

In total, approximately 78,985 tons of electronic devices were collected by municipalities while NNT Docomo shops (one of the most dominant mobile phone operators in Japan) were able to gather an additional 6.1 million recycled phones. From these electronics, 32 kilograms of gold, 3,500 kilograms of silver, and 2,200 kilograms of bronze were extracted.

tokyo recycled medals
image source: Jeplan, Inc.
tokyo recycled medals
image source: Minami Kinzoku, Co.

Before extracting the metals, the electronic devices were first dismantled and classified by a select group of contractors approved by the government following Japan’s Act on Promotion of Recycling of Small Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. After being extracted by smelters, the metals were refined into the pure gold, silver, or bronze that would ultimately be used to produce the finished Olympic medals to be presented at the podiums.

tokyo recycled medals
image source: Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo
tokyo recycled medals
image source: Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo
tokyo recycled medals
image source: Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo

While the ambitious project is undoubtedly a feat for the engineers involved, The Tokyo 2020 Metal Project also aims to promote Japan’s wish for an eco-friendly, recycling, and sustainable society. The project shows how some of the world’s most precious resources can come from unwanted waste, and if we all pitched in to recycle, what sort of an impact we could have as a whole society.

tokyo recycled medals

Regardless of where the materials came from, the 2020 Olympic medals produced are still stunning. So when you catch these babies being awarded to the winning athletes next year, remember the love and effort the people of Japan put into making them.

Author

Carlos wrestles gators, and by gators, we mean words. He also loves good design, good books, and good coffee.