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 Olympic medals.
Olympic medals.

THE last time Tokyo hosted the Olympic Games, in 1964, Japan was a country more focused on economic growth than environmental concerns. Today, Japan is a First World nation with a strong emphasis on sustainability.

This will be fully showcased at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where athletes will receive medals made of gold, silver and bronze recycled from discarded mobile phones and other consumer electronics products.

“We hope that our project to recycle small consumer electronics and our efforts to contribute to an environmentally-friendly and sustainable society will become a legacy of the Tokyo 2020 Games,” the organisers said.  

 Sustainability concept for Tokyo 2020.
Sustainability concept for Tokyo 2020.

This is not the first time Olympic medals had recycled materials in them. Silver and bronze medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games contained about 30 per cent recycled materials. Some medals at the 2010 Vancouver (Winter) Olympics also had some material recycled from recycled circuit boards. But this is the first time all 5000 medals to be given out in the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be made from recycled materials.

“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.”

GREENING THE GAMES

 Olympic torch.
Olympic torch.

Although the medals got the most publicity, there are a host of other sustainability initiatives related to the Tokyo 2020 Games. For example, the podiums that the medal winners will be stepping on to receive their medals are made from recycled household plastic waste as well as ocean plastic waste.

This is the first time in Olympic and Paralympic Games history that medal ceremony podiums will be made of waste plastic collected by citizens. Collection boxes for discarded plastic were made available in 2000 retail outlets throughout the country.

Approximately 30 per cent of the Olympic Torch is made from recycled aluminium, which was originally used in the construction of pre-fabricated houses in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The Olympic Torchbearer uniforms are partly made from recycled plastic bottles which were collected by the Coca-Cola company.

The beds that the athletes will be sleeping on in the Athletes Village will have frames made of sturdy cardboard. In case you’re wondering how well these will hold up, they’re very strong. “Those beds can stand up to 200 kilogrammes,” according to Takashi Kitajima, the general manager of the 2020 Athletes Village. “They’re stronger than wooden beds.”

 Musashino Forest Sports Plaza.
Musashino Forest Sports Plaza.

Musashino Forest Sports Plaza used a number of recyclable materials including crushed stone, recycled steel, and secondary concrete products. Five other venues — Ariake Arena, Sea Forest Waterway, Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre and Yumenoshima Park Archery Field — also used recyclable materials. All venues will make effective use of water resources using rainwater and recycled water.

The electricity used at all Games venues will be derived from 100 per cent renewable energy. Seven venues in Tokyo have had various renewable energy system installed including solar power generation systems, solar heat utilisation systems and geothermal heating/cooling systems. Meanwhile, passenger cars used during the Games will be low-pollution and be fuel-efficient vehicles — such as Hybrid cars — which will help to reduce carbon emissions.

With this great effort to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics the greenest Games ever, it will probably influence future Olympics to go fully green as well. On a macro level, the publicity generated by this gargantuan green effort may also influence the mindsets of viewers around the world who tune in for the Tokyo Games and make more people environmentally conscious.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at [email protected].

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