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


(Vytautas Dranginis, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Douglas Broom, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • 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.


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.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum’s Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

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

What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) is a collaboration between businesses, international donors, national and local governments, community groups and world-class experts seeking meaningful actions to beat plastic pollution.

It aims to show how businesses, communities and governments can redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy as a circular one in which products and materials are redesigned, recovered and reused to reduce environmental impacts.

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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