Lego plans to make their iconic plastic blocks … without plastic

Lego sustainable material
CC BY 2.0 713 Avenue/Flickr

The company will spend $1 billion and employ a team of 100 to find a sustainable alternative.

Although plastic may be one of the bigger banes of the environment, I’ve always secretly admired Lego for making toys that are so durable and historically consistent that they don’t require replacement on a regular basis. I know plastic is awful, but all Lego would have to do is to revamp the toys' connecting system and zillions of eventually non-relevant Legos would have been sent packing to the landfill to make way for new ones; and Lego would have ensured a tidy profit on the sales of replacements. But they never did that. Plus, a distinct lack of planned obsolescence is a kind thing to provide for customers.

Given the Danish company’s track record on sustainability, it doesn’t seem like a fluke. They have been working on reducing packaging and have investments in offshore wind farms. Last year they discontinued their partnership with the oil company Shell. But it’s their latest announcement that seals the deal. The company plans to replace the plastic in their plastic blocks with a sustainable material by 2030.

Since 1963 the colorful toys have been made with a plastic known as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. In 2014, more than 60 billion LEGO elements were made; the company uses more than 6,000 tons of plastic annually to manufacture its products. Replacing that massive amount of material could really have some impact. Only 10 percent of the company’s carbon emissions come from its factories, all the rest comes from the extraction and refinement of raw materials (as well as distribution).

The company will invest $1 billion in the LEGO Sustainable Materials Centre in Denmark, which will have the sole purpose of finding and implementing new sustainable alternatives; they will hire 100 specialists to carry out the task.

What kind of material they will arrive at remains to be seen, and since there is no official definition of a sustainable material there are no technical guidelines to follow, but the company has developed some criteria for their own.

They note that a new sustainable material must have: “an ever-lighter footprint than the material it replaces across key environmental and social impact areas such as fossil resource use, human rights and climate change.”

The Lego Sustainable Materials Centre organization will be established during 2015 and 2016, and it is expected that it will include satellite functions located in relevant locations around the globe. In addition, the center will collaborate and develop partnerships with relevant external stakeholders and experts, according to an announcement from the company.

“Our mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. We believe that our main contribution to this is through the creative play experiences we provide to children. The investment announced is a testament to our continued ambition to leave a positive impact on the planet, which future generations will inherit," notes Lego Group owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen on the announcement. "It is certainly in line with the mission of the LEGO Group and in line with the motto of my grandfather and founder of the LEGO Group, Ole Kirk Kristiansen: Only the best is good enough.”

Tags: Plastics | Toys

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