At first glance, the beds in the Tokyo Olympic Village appear to sit atop white shoe boxes. It looks that way because the frames are made of cardboard. Sturdy cardboard—but still, cardboard. Could cardboard beds become the new gold (medal) standard?
The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games wants to prevent waste from the 2020 Olympics. The goal is to reuse or recycle 99% of the items purchased in preparing for the games. Even the winners’ medals will be made using metal from discarded electronics like cell phones or televisions.
“The organizing committee was thinking about recyclable items, and the bed was one of the ideas,” explains Takashi Kitajima, general manager of the Athletes Village.
Local Japanese Olympic sponsor Airweave Inc. is custom-making recyclable frames and mattresses for the housing units. After the Olympics and Paralympics (for athletes with disabilities), the single-bed frames will become paper products. The mattresses—which thankfully aren’t made of cardboard!—will also be recycled. They are made of many layers of polyethylene fiber mesh, which can be melted and formed into new products after use.
For any athlete, sleep is an important factor in performing well. Not only are the cardboard frames recyclable, but they are also lightweight and customizable. That will allow athletes to rework the room layout to suit their needs—or extend the frames for tall competitors.
Olympics organizers showed off the zero-waste beds at their headquarters in January. Kitajima addressed questions about durability. “Those beds can stand up to 200 kilograms,” he explained through an interpreter. “They are stronger than wooden beds.”
Since that weight limit equals about 440 pounds, Kitajima is probably correct. No Olympic athlete in modern record-keeping has weighed that much. (The heaviest 2016 participants were a weightlifter and a judo competitor—each weighing about 375 pounds. They were heavy but could probably still have caught some shut-eye on the cardboard beds.)
The entire Athletes Village complex should be completed in June. The Olympics open on July 24 followed by the Paralympics on August 25. The complex will contain 26,000 beds for both events combined. That’s a lot of carboard!
Organizers say this is the first time that the beds and bedding in the Athletes Village have been made entirely of recyclable materials.
“Of course,” Kitajima admits, “wood and cardboard would each break if you jumped on them.” So much for those post-victory pillow fights.