The Tokyo Olympic medals are a model of recycled materials. (Kimimasa Mayama/EPA-EFE)

The electronic trash of yesterday will be tomorrow’s most coveted treasure when the Tokyo Olympics begin next summer.

The 5,000 medals that will be awarded at the Games and Paralympics have been crafted entirely from recycled consumer devices. Unveiled on Tuesday, they are the first sustainable medals, designed to resemble polished stones, in Olympic history, organizers said. The move toward recycling has been underway for some time. Medals at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro contained recycled material, with the silver and bronze medals made from 30 percent recycled materials and the organizing committee for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics said a small fraction of its medals were made of recycled circuit boards.

The 2020 medals represent the contributions of Japanese citizens and are the culmination of a crowdsourcing project that began when people were asked to recycle their cellphones and small devices and appliances over two years ago.

“A project that allows the people of Japan to take part in creating the medals is really good,” Koji Murofushi, the Tokyo 2020 sports director, said in a 2017 news conference. “There’s a limit on the resources of our earth, so recycling these things will make us think about the environment.”

Tokyo organizers set out to gather as much as eight tons of metal to yield the three tons needed for the gold, silver and bronze medals, and collection boxes were set up starting in April 2017. Organizers said that about 32 kg (roughly 70 pounds) of gold was salvaged from 6.2 million mobile phones, with more than 12,000 pounds of silver and bronze recovered.

Following Olympic rules, one side must bear images of Nike, the goddess of victory; the Olympic rings; and the official name of the Games. (Medals for Paralympians will be revealed next month.)


One side of the medals must bear the likeness of the goddess of victory, the Olympic rings and the name of the Games. (Kimimasa Mayama/EPA-EFE)

The other side is different for each Olympics. The design was chosen from 400 entries and, according to the organizers, “The medals resemble rough stones that have been polished and which now shine, with ‘light’ and ‘brilliance’ their overall themes. The medals collect and reflect myriad patterns of light, symbolizing the energy of the athletes and those who support them; their design is intended to symbolize diversity and represent a world where people who compete in sports and work hard are honored. The brilliance of the medals’ reflections signifies the warm glow of friendship depicted by people all over the world holding hands.”

In keeping with that theme of friendship, four robotic versions of mascots Miratowa (for the Olympics) and Someity (for the Paralympics) will greet visitors at venues and shake their hands. The mascots were crowdsourced, too, chosen by more than 16,000 of the country’s elementary-school children.


Say hello to Miraitowa, the mascot for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

Opening Ceremonies for the Olympics are July 24, 2020, with the Paralympics’ Opening Ceremonies on Aug. 25, 2020.

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