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Olympic Committee Reminds Tokyo Athletes Not to Bite Medals as They’re Made of Recycled Electronics


Humanity discarded about $10 billion worth of gold, platinum, and other precious metals in 2019, according to a United Nations report. That amounts to 7.3 kilograms per person. That year, just 17% of wasted electronics were recycled, and the volume wasted is growing three times quicker than the human population.

So, did your favorite athlete at the Tokyo Olympics win the recycled VCR medal, the recycled cell phone medal, or did they take home the grand prize, the much-coveted recycled television medal?

It may sound like a cheekily imagined dystopia, but it’s actually the 2021 Tokyo Olympics Games, and the organizing committee has taken to social media to remind athletes about that fact when they get the impulse to engage in the time-honored tradition of biting their newly-won medals to verify their authenticity.

​Tweeted from the official Tokyo 2020 Twitter account - the name of which was left unchanged despite a year’s postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic - the Sunday post reminded athletes that the gold, silver, and bronze medals “are made from material recycled from electronic devices donated by the Japanese public.”

“So, you don't have to bite them... but we know you still will,” they added.

It’s actually been more than 100 years since the Olympics gave out true solid-gold medals, but in those heady days, the bite test was used to see if the medal was soft enough for a tooth to leave an impact mark - fake gold would be harder and resist the bite.

However, making them out of recycled metal is a much newer novelty. Tokyo set about preparing for the games years ago, not only by building new facilities, but by launching a vast donation drive to collect obsolete or broken electronic devices from the city’s 14 million people.

Between April 1, 2017, and March 30, 2019, the Tokyo 2020 Medal Project collected 78,985 tons of electronic devices, including 6.21 million used mobile phones. From them they extracted 32 kilograms of gold, 3,500 kilograms of silver, and 2,200 kilograms of bronze. 

All three metals are very useful for making circuit boards, where they are favored over copper because they resist corrosion. Due to the incredible volume of waste humans discard each year, some experts think we will soon have to mine landfills for their sizable concentrations of aluminum, copper, zinc, and steel, in addition to precious metals like gold, silver, and bronze.

“We are grateful for everyone's cooperation on this project. We hope that our project of recycling small consumer electronics and our efforts to contribute to an environmentally-friendly and sustainable society will form part of the legacy of the Tokyo 2020 Games,” the committee said on its page about the medal project.

That said, the medals are far from worthless. The gold medal is mostly made of silver but still contains about 6 grams of gold, together amounting to about $830 each, according to Parade. However, the silver medals are 100% silver and worth about $445 each. However, the bronze medals are made of red brass, a related alloy of copper and zinc, and worth no more than $2.50.

In all, the Olympic Committee made about 5,000 medals total, to be used for both the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, which are immediately after the Olympics and feature athletes with a range of disabilities.

However, maybe this time it’s best if athletes just stick to kissing their prizes.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Gymnastics - Artistic - Men's Team - Medal Ceremony - Ariake Gymnastics Centre, Tokyo, Japan - July 26, 2021. Gold medallist's Nikita Nagornyy of the Russian Olympic Committee celebrates on the podium

Just don't follow the lead of Moroccan boxer Youness Baalla, who was recently disqualified for attempting to bite his opponent, New Zealand's David Nyika, on his ear during a match.

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