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Winter Olympic medals made from recycled e-waste

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Vancouver,e-waste,medal,OlympicWhen Olympic champions are crowned at this year’s winter games in Vancouver, these elite athletes will be taking home more than just gold, silver or bronze medals—they will be playing a role in Canada’s efforts to reduce electronic waste. That’s because each medal was made with a tiny bit of the more than 140,000 tons of e-waste that otherwise would have been sent to Canadian landfills.

The more than 1,000 medals to be awarded at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, which kick off today, amount to 2.05 kilograms of gold, 1,950 kilograms of silver (Olympic gold medals are about 92.5 per cent silver, plated with six grams of gold) and 903 kilograms of copper. A little more than 1.5 percent of each gold medal was made with metals harvested from cathode ray tube glass, computer parts, circuit boards and other trashed tech. Each copper medal contains just over one percent e-waste, while the silver medals contain only small traces of recycled electronics.

This is the first time that recycled materials have been added to Olympic medals, which historically have been made from mined mineral deposits refined for commercial use. Each Olympic medal is 100 millimeters in diameter, about six millimeters thick and weighs between 500 and 576 grams, depending upon the medal.

Teck Resources, the Vancouver-based company that extracted the metals used to make the medals, noted in a press release that it used a number of different recovery processes. The company shredded computers, monitors, printers and glass and then separated out steel, aluminum, copper, glass and other usable substances. The leftover shredded components were fed into a furnace operating at a temperature of 1,200 degrees Celsius in order to remove the metals that could not be recovered simply by shredding the electronic devices.

Image © VANOC/COVAN





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  1. 1. jaqcp 8:23 pm 02/12/2010

    1.5%, 1% and trace amounts? That is within tolerances for the standard amount of crap that will sneak in anyway! What a crock. That exceeds Chinese quality control as it is.

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  2. 2. BVTrif 6:21 am 02/13/2010

    a bit more than 1.5% of the total amount of gold (2.05kg) comes from wastes. That means that just a bit more than 3g of gold will come from recycled products. It is a cube of gold with a side length 5.4mm and it is worth less than 120$. For the opening, the cheapest seats were at 175$

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  3. 3. pts 8:23 pm 02/13/2010

    Interesting article, but how much energy/waste/money are really saving here for this number of medals?

    -PTS (www.parttimescholar.com)

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  4. 4. interpret6 6:46 am 02/14/2010

    Isn’t this simply a story designed to show off shiny medals? Considering the sources of the metals used, 1.5% is a pretty decent contribution. It is very expensive and time consuming to extract useful gold from – say, a cell phone; which may contain around 5 cents worth of the stuff.

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  5. 5. BONSOLAIRE 3:11 am 02/15/2010

    All I have to say is that 1.5% or any trace amount of gold, silver, and copper that came from recycled materials is more recycled metals than any other Olympics considering the article said it is the first time any effort to use recycled materials has been done.

    The Atlanta games included, so although some of you may whine and complain about it being marginal, it’s more than any other country has tried to do.

    Link to this
  6. 6. frgough 1:50 pm 02/15/2010

    Stuff like this always cracks me up. Everything we put in the ground after we’ve used it, came out of the ground before we used it. But, of course, before man used it, it was pristine, pure and holy. After man has used it, it’s polluted evil and foul.

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  7. 7. Fabrice LOTY 2:05 pm 02/17/2010

    It is quite beautiful to mention recycled products.
    Is it all about sustainable development?
    If that is the case, the furnace operating at 1,200 degrees Celsius looks like waste of resources. By the way, sustainable development as projected in Canada promotes efficient use of resources.

    Link to this
  8. 8. pastalex 3:38 pm 02/19/2010

    There’s a nice little documentary about the making of the medals and the designers at Motherboard:
    http://www.motherboard.tv/2010/2/3/medal-gear-turning-electronics-into-olympic-gold–2

    Link to this
  9. 9. Loethe Olthuis 2:35 pm 02/22/2010

    Dear sir, madam,
    I’m a Dutch journalist with Volkskrant newspaper and I used your information to write about the Olympic medals, but your numbers aren’t correct. 2.05 kg gold, 1,950 kg silver and 903 kg copper for 1000 medals make medals that weigh about 3 kilos! Could you give me the correct numbers please, as my readers have been complaining about this?
    my e-mail: loethe@hetnet.nl
    Thank you, best regards,
    Loethe Olthuis

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  10. 10. Sydboi 3:40 pm 02/25/2010

    The Sydney Olympic medals were actually made from recycled 1 and 2c coins which were no longer in circulation

    Link to this
  11. 11. Monterey Company 2:26 pm 04/12/2010

    This is such a great example of where we should all be moving towards. Medals, coins and any other emblematic jewelry should be made with recycled products as an added way to give more meaning to the recognition the items are meant to convey.

    Link to this

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