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WATCH: Japan’s dirty secret and how it made gold at the Olympics this year

The Olympic Gold medals are actually only 1.2% gold, with each gold medal containing only 6.7g of gold. Picture: Alexander Nemenov/AFP

The Olympic Gold medals are actually only 1.2% gold, with each gold medal containing only 6.7g of gold. Picture: Alexander Nemenov/AFP

Published Aug 3, 2021


Japan won’t be winning any gold medals with its current waste disposal and recycling programs, but the country may soon be a top contender for a podium position judging by the phenomenal rate of improvements seen within its waste disposal sector.

According to a July 2019 article published in the Tokyo Review, Japan has one of the lowest rates of recycling among all its peers in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD), recycling only around 22% of all waste and incinerating the rest. But, due to increased public pressure to make waste management practices more efficient, these figures are improving.

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A study published by Japan’s John Olmsted titled “Recycling: More Efficient than the USA”, stated that currently, “Japanese trash pick-up is handled very differently than in the US.

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Instead of once a week, it is picked up almost daily. There are three main types of garbage which must be separated completely from each other: burnable, non-burnable, and recyclables. Non burnable includes pieces of metal or glass, rubber, Styrofoam and plastic packages or wrappings, plastic 'pet' bottles, shampoo bottles, and the like.”

In 2019, the United States managed to recycle only around 9.8% of its total waste.

Residents must place food waste in separate plastic bags, these will be taken to a composting facility. All other waste should be placed into transparent plastic bags which would enable authorities to make sure that it is indeed the correct type of trash for that day. If it is the wrong type, your bag will be left behind and all the neighbours will know that you hate the planet.

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In order to drive this new culture of recycling and waste reduction, Japan has made it one of the major themes of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The initiative, called the “Tokyo 2020 Medal Project: Towards an Innovative Future for All” is part of a broader program which called for nationwide participation for the Olympic games. The project aimed to make all the Olympic Gold, Silver and Bronze medals from 100% recycled materials.

Technology publication, ZME Science, reported that almost 90 percent of Japanese cities, towns and villages participated in the project by setting up donation collection sites where Japanese citizens donated their old electronic devices.

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The Official Tokyo Olympic website stated that between April 2017 and March 2019, approximately 78 985 tons of discarded devices were collected from the people of Japan. This includes about 6.21 million used mobile phones, along with digital cameras, hand-held games and laptops. These were then classified, categorised, dismantled and melted down by highly trained contractors.

Collections resulted in approximately 32kg of gold, 3 500kg of silver and 2 200kg of bronze.

According to Compound Interest, a science communication website that examines chemical compounds, the Olympic Gold medals are actually only 1.2% gold, with each gold medal containing only 6.7g of gold. The rest of it is silver.

Only the silver medals at the Tokyo games, which weigh the same as their gold counterparts, are made entirely of silver. The lighter, 1 pound or 600g bronze medals are a mixture of 95% copper and 5% tin.

If you’re thinking of prospecting for gold from your old mobile phones, it is firstly dangerous and toxic to do so and then it also takes up to 40 cellphones to salvage one gram of gold.

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