Tokyo Olympic Medals Could Be Made from Recycled Cell Phones, Other Electronics

The majority of people may never come close to earning an Olympic medal, but in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Games, Japanese residents may play a unique part in the medal process: Their recycled contributions could provide the raw materials necessary to made one of sporting’s most esteemed prizes.

Though the program is still in the discussion and planning phase, Nikkei Asian Review is reporting that Japanese Olympic officials are considering sourcing the metals needed for the medals from recycled consumer electronics, which contain small amounts of gold, silver, and copper. For the 2012 London Games, it took 9.6kg of gold, 1,210kg of silver, and 700kg of copper to make all the Olympic and Paralympic medals awarded. (Note that the gold medals aren’t solid gold, and copper si the primary component of bronze.)

That means the world’s top weightlifters (and athletes from dozens of other sports, of course…) could look forward to medals crafted from an “urban mine” and using more sustainable processes than any previous Games.

Nikkei is estimating that in 2014, over 140kg of gold, 1,500kg of silver, and 1,110 tons of copper were recovered from discarded Japanese electronics in. And yet only a small percentage of these devices actually make it to appropriate recycling centers, and issue countries around the globe face as sustainability programs lag behind device use and demand.

Olympic Medals

Image by Paul Hudson, Licensed CC by 2.0

The issue, unsurprisingly, isn’t whether enough of the materials are discarded via smartphones, computers, and other electronics; it’s collecting and recycling them. It’s estimated that less than 20% of small consumer electronics are currently recycled in Japan, and a large-scale collection and recycling program has been called for by citizens, pundits, and Olympic officials alike.

Hopefully, a program centered on sourcing Olympic medal material could move the dial on greater sustainability efforts in Japan and abroad.

David Tao

David Tao

BarBend's Co-Founder and Editorial Director, David is a veteran of the health & fitness industry, with nearly a decade of experience building and running editorial teams in the space. He also serves as a color commentator for both National and International weightlifting competitions, many through USA Weightlifting.

David graduated from Harvard University and served for several years as Editorial Director/Chief Content Officer of In addition to his work in the health & fitness industry, David has been a writer for Fortune and, as well as a contributor to, Slate, and numerous other outlets across the web and in print. He's especially passionate about the intersection of strength sports and quality, professional media coverage — overlapping interests shared by the BarBend editorial team and which drive their content strategy each and every day.

David is a proud Kentucky native. In his free time, David is a voiceover actor and can be heard in animated films, independent shorts, music videos, commercials, and podcasts.

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