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  • Writer's pictureValerieBound

The Incredible Sustainability of the Olympic Medals

Confession time: I LOVE the Olympics! Nothing makes me feel more patriotic or proud than watching athletes demonstrate all their years of hard work and persistence. And this year, my love of the Olympics coincides nicely with my love of jewelry. First of all, you couldn’t pick a better gem location than Brazil (see my earlier blog post about Brazil’s almost-unfair gemstone richness here). And second, I’m completely in love with the medals they’ve designed. I know they’re not your traditional wear-around-the-house jewelry, but still…..

Silver & Mostly Gold

The Internet has been buzzing about how the gold medals are only gold-plated, or only 1.2% actual gold (494 grams of silver and 6 grams of gold). I mean, really, did people actually think you got a solid gold medal???!!! I found out they did that once – the 1912 Summer Games in Sweden. And I’m just guessing here, but I imagine that was way too expensive! Solid gold medals today would be worth $20,000, whereas if you melted down one of Rio’s gold (plated) medals and sold it, you’d get about $600. While we DO love you, athletes, $600 seems far more reasonable, especially when you give out around 800.

<img class=" wp-image-6076 lazyload" src="" alt="The only medal made from solid gold, from the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden" width="500" height="222" srcset=" 900w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" /> The only medal made from solid gold, from the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden

Of course, the silver medals are made entirely of sterling silver. Their value would be approximately $300. But let’s move on to something more interesting.

Medals Showcase the Country

I know most of us don’t go around wearing the medals we won at the Olympics, but I wanted to use this post as a way to showcase the very real artistry and workmanship that goes into creating these one-of-kind pieces. I’m also impressed with the efforts Brazil made to make these medals sustainably, especially in light of all the news we’ve been seeing about how pollution is affecting the athletes and visitors.

First of all, you should know that each Olympics and the medals created for it are special. I suppose that’s kind of obvious, but it’s a huge honor to host an Olympics, and an opportunity for countries to showcase their resources, values, and people. Each medal is unique, and tells a story of the country. For example, the 2008 Beijing Olympic medals were the first to feature some gorgeous jade inlay. They used Kunlun jade, which is actually is kind of nephrite. But a lot of people say jade for both jade and nephrite. Anyway, the nephrite is native to the province where the Olympics were held. It’s the first time a non-metal material was incorporated into a medal, which seems like a pretty big deal.

The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games said the medals “symbolize nobility and virtue and are embodiment of traditional Chinese values of ethics and honor, sending forth strong Chinese flavor.”

<img class="wp-image-681 lazyload" src="" alt="Medals featuring jade for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing" width="501" height="448" srcset=" 500w, 300w, 370w" sizes="(max-width: 501px) 100vw, 501px" /> Medals featuring jade for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing

Brazil Showcases Sustainability

Did you know the Olympics has a slogan? Well, they do. And Rio’s is “A New World.” To them, it’s a statement for a more sustainable and accessible future, for everyone. Pretty cool. They even did a whole video presentation at the Opening Ceremonies about climate change and rising sea levels. And they had the athletes carry in seedlings so they can plant 207 species of trees (one for participating country) in a future Athlete’s Forest.

Besides their slogan, the look of the games skewed very natural, with lots of green and brown. This focus on nature and sustainability extended to the creation and presentation of the medals. The Brazilian Mint made all of the nearly 2,500 medals.

<img class="wp-image-1574 lazyload" src="" alt="" width="503" height="335" srcset=" 1599w, 300w, 768w, 1024w, 370w, 1040w" sizes="(max-width: 503px) 100vw, 503px" /> The official medals for the Rio Olympics 2016

Here’s a few of the ways the medals demonstrate sustainability:

  1. The gold in the gold medals was mined without the use of mercury. Small-scale miners typically use mercury to extract gold. Unfortunately, it’s wicked toxic, and wrecks havoc on ecosystems. I think that’s important, since Brazil is home to the Amazon, one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet.

  2. The silver and bronze medals contain 30% recycled silver. The recycled silver came from car mirrors, car parts, and X-ray plates.

  3. The ribbons are made from 50 per cent recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET). What’s that, you say? PET is all those water bottles I hope you’ve been recycling! PET bottles are the most commonly recycled material (they have the “1” on the bottle of the bottles) here in the United States.

  4. And, best of all, each medal also comes in a beautiful round case carved from sustainable freijó wood, certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

What About You?

Anyway, I’m pretty proud of Brazil for these medals. What better way to draw attention to their beautiful natural resources? What do you think, are you in love with them like I am?


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