Olympic medals from recycled metals

2010 Vancouver Olympic Medals (Photo courtesy Royal Canadian Mint)

For the first time in Olympic history, the Vancouver 2010 medals contain gold, silver and copper recovered during electronics recycling.

 The recovered metals make up only a small percentage of the total metals used in the medals, but their use is nevertheless being touted as consistent with the sustainability philosophy of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

A story by the Environment News Service says the recovered gold, silver and copper used in the medals came from 6.8 metric tonnes of electronics circuit boards collected and processed by Teck Resources, a mining and metals company based in Vancouver that supplied all the metals for the medals. The electronic components were shredded, separated, and heated to recover the metals, which were then combined with the mined metal from other Teck sources.  

You can read more about the medals and the processes at the Teck Resources website and the Royal Canadian Mint site.

Teck says its electronics recycling process meets the exacting environmental standards needed for the responsible processing of e-waste.

That has become an increasingly important issue. According to groups that advocate for safer  recycling, too often  electronic materials are sent abroad to be dismantled. Unprotected workers can be sickened and local environments contaminated.  Even if a recycling event's sponsors say they do not sell materials to irresponsible recyclers, the middleman that they do sell to might, according to the critics.

The Basel Action Network, a global watchdog group on toxic trade, has come up with an e-Stewards certification program, and last week the Natural Resources Defense Council, another prominent advocacy group, announced its endorsement of the certification. 

“This initiative is sorely needed,” said NRDC Senior Scientist Dr. Allen Hershkowitz in a press release. “Many e-waste recyclers claim to be green, but in reality they rely on unsafe and ecologically damaging methods like dumping millions of tons of toxic waste each year in China, India and Africa. E-Stewards provide businesses and consumers with a first-of-a-kind seal to identify the truly responsible recyclers.”

More information is at www.e-stewards.org