Recycling metals into medals

While there may be some questions considering the sustainability of the 2010 Winter Olympics, there were certainly no shortcomings when it came to the design of the medals.
Over 1,000 gold, silver and bronze medals—some of the heaviest medals in Olympic history, weighing in between 500 and 576 grams each—are being supplied to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler. Besides the interesting undulating effect inspired by the natural elements of Canada and unique First Nations designs, the medals are also a first in sustainability.

Manufactured through Teck Resources Ltd., whose main headquarters are located in Vancouver, the gold, silver and bronze, or copper, metals for the medals were partially extracted from e-waste: used circuit boards from computers, televisions and other electronics.

The recycling process Teck has created to recover metals from end-of-life electronics involves extraction from cathode ray tube glass, computer parts and the circuit boards through smelting.

The recycled materials come from Teck’s e-waste centre in Trail, B.C., from where the circuit boards are taken apart and sent to Belgium’s Umicore facility which in turn sent the separated metals to the Royal Canadian Mint to be manufactured into a symbol of excellence for Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

“These medals are a beautiful and fitting tribute to the athlete who will shine and be forever remembered as the heroes and heroines of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games,” said Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee when the medals were released. “They’ll also call to mind the hospitality and generous spirit of all Canadians who welcomed the world in 2010 whenever they’re viewed.”

While it still takes fuel to ship things around the world and the medals really only contain 0.122 to 1.52 per cent of recycled material, Teck says their e-waste recycling process is a practical solution to the challenge of reducing the amount of e-waste material destined for landfills. It certainly is a forward approach and sets a great example. Plus each of those Olympic and Paralympic medals contained once used electronics that came from homes all over Canada. Who knows, perhaps something you’ve recycled will be a part of Olympic history.

Each medalist will be taking a piece of environmentally conscious Canada with them, and as the Olympics are known for groundbreaking design, this could be a new wave in sustainable thinking when it comes to worldwide events.

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