Nature and Biodiversity

Tokyo 2020 Olympics: from cardboard beds to recycled medals, how the Games are going green

A flight of geese passes the Olympic rings, afloat on a barge in Vancouver's harbour, at dawn as the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics continues February 20, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Helgren      (CANADA - Tags: ANIMALS SPORT OLYMPICS IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1E62L093701

Could 2020 see the most environmentally friendly Olympics ever? Image: REUTERS/Chris Helgren (CANADA - Tags: ANIMALS SPORT OLYMPICS IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1E62L093701

Douglas Broom
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Japan

  • Tokyo 2020 is aiming to be the greenest-ever Olympic Games.
  • Athletes will sleep on recyclable cardboard beds.
  • The event’s medals will be made from recycled precious metals.
  • Organizers hope the event will emit no more than 2.93 million tonnes of CO2.

Tokyo 2020's dream of being the lowest-emission Olympic Games ever even extends to where the athletes will sleep – on cardboard beds.

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The beds, which will be recycled after the event, are designed to withstand weights of up to 200 kilogrammes, although the organizers warn that they may break if jumped on.

Mattresses on the 18,000 cardboard beds provided for the event are also made to be fully recyclable after use.

No jumping now! Recyclable beds for Tokyo 2020. Image: AP

It’s all part of an effort by the Tokyo Olympic committee to reduce the event’s carbon footprint. The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games were estimated to have emitted 4.5 million tonnes of CO2. The 2012 London Games, which claimed to be the greenest ever, generated 3.3 million tonnes.

A major source of emissions at any international event comes from flying in competitors and spectators. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) says a return flight from New York to Tokyo will generate 946 kg of CO2 per passenger.

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The organizers have devised an independently audited carbon offset programme designed to ensure the Games – which open on 24 July, followed by the Paralympics on 25 August – emit as little carbon as possible.

Gold, silver, bronze – all recycled

Electricity used at the Games will come from renewable sources such as solar, biomass and hydro. Energy efficiency measures include fitting only LED lights to all the event venues.

Tokyo 2020 is even using precious metals recovered from 6.2 million discarded mobile phones to cast its medals. The recycling effort yielded the 32 kg of gold, 3,500 kg of silver and 2,200 kg of bronze needed to produce 5,000 medals.

Podiums for the medal ceremonies are being made from recycled plastic donated by the public and recovered from the oceans. After the Games, these will be used for educational purposes or recycled to make bottles by sponsor Procter & Gamble.

Autonomous electric shuttles will ferry athletes between venues. Image: Toyota

Zero-emission transport will also be used, including fuel-cell buses, autonomous battery shuttles and hydrogen-powered forklift trucks, which will be used to move heavy items around the Olympic sites.

Earthquake legacy of hope

The Olympic torch has been produced using aluminium waste from temporary housing that was built in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. And the uniforms worn by officials are being made from polyester derived from recycled bottles.

Even the Olympic torch is recycled. Image: IOC
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The Olympic village plaza will be built with sustainably-sourced timber donated by local authorities across Japan. After the Games, the timber will be reused as public benches or to build public buildings.

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