In a historic first, a small portion of the metal used to forge the Vancouver Winter Olympic medals will be recycled. Gold, silver and bronze salvaged from so-called “e-waste” — discarded computers, TVs and other electronic detritus — were mixed with conventionally mined ore to create the unique undulating medals designed by BC Aboriginal artist Corinne Hunt.
Although less than two per cent of the metal used is reclaimed, the Games’ official metal supplier, Teck Resources, insists that symbolically it is a huge step.
“By including even a small portion of recovered metal,” notes Teck spokesperson Dario Alvarez, “we can help the world to understand that practical, responsible solutions exist to meet the challenge of reducing the amount of e-waste material destined for landfills.”
And where are symbolic gestures more important than at the Olympics? Hosting an Olympics in the middle of an economic crisis, Vancouver has been trying to eschew Beijing-style ostentation in favour of more grassroots values like sustainability. So the use of recycled metals is a welcome addition to its other attempts (rain-water flush toilets at the Olympic Oval are another example) to offset the inevitable ecological footprint that is created by the Games.
That’s not to say there will not be a certain amount of “bling” at the Games. A whopping 1,950 kilograms of silver, 903 kilograms of copper and 2.05 kilograms of gold (the gold medals are actually gilded silver) were used to make the medals, which feature images of an orca and a raven —important symbols of strength and transformation in Aboriginal mythology. In all, 615 Olympic and 399 Paralympic medals have been produced by the Royal Canadian Mint.
The metal was sourced from Teck’s mines in Canada and around the world. The gold is all North American — from the Hemlo Mine near Marathon, Ontario, the Pogo Mine near Fairbanks, Alaska, and from its Trail, British Columbia, smelter where the recycled metals are extracted. Trail also supplied the silver. The copper was a more international affair: the copper cathode was brought in from Teck’s Carmen de Andacollo and Quebrada Blanca sites in Chile, while Duck Pond (Newfoundland), Highland Valley (British Columbia) and Antamina Mine (Peru) supplied the copper concentrate.