The Surprising Secret Ingredient in the 2020 Olympic Medals

The games will give new life to old tech.


Let’s be honest: Of all the items that’ll turn up at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — running shoes, bikes, kayaks and, for the first time, rock climbing harnesses, surfboards and skateboards — it’s the medals we all care about the most. They are the sought-after objects that symbolize the efforts and feats of the winning athletes, but they’re still objects. That fact is made all too clear now that the games’ organizers have revealed not only what the medals will look like, but also what they’ll be made out of: old, discarded electronics.

According to a report by CNN, Olympic officials collected roughly 79,000 tons of small electronics over a two-year period to be recycled into nearly 5,000 gold, silver and bronze medals. Most of the material — gold and silver for the gold medal, silver for the silver, and copper and zinc for the bronze — comes from cell phones; Japanese citizens donated over six million for recycling. As sustainability becomes a requisite consideration in the production of athletic and outdoor apparel and equipment, it’s an important and potent gesture that the medals, as literal and physical symbols of achievement in sport, follow suit.

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