Lego Announces Launch of Bioplastic Pieces


Made from sugarcane, the new sustainable play pieces will be included in Lego kits in 2018.

Danish toymaker Lego has just announced the launch of its first-ever bricks made from plant-based materials. The new pieces, made from a bioplastic sourced from Brazilian sugarcane, will start appearing in Lego kits this year. Currently, the pieces are limited to Lego's trees, bushes, and leaves, a.k.a. 'botanical elements', but the company's eventual goal is to use plant sources for all of its beloved building bricks.

It has been nearly three years since Lego announced it would invest $1 billion in the LEGO Sustainable Materials Centre in Denmark and assigned 100 people to the task of coming up with a more environmentally friendly alternative material. At that point, the company didn't know it would end up with sugarcane-based bioplastic, but it knew it wanted something with

"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."

This new plastic is made from polyethylene, which is described as "soft, durable, and flexible" and technically identical to pieces produced using traditional plastic. Tim Brooks, VP of Environmental Responsibility, said in a press release:

"LEGO products have always been about providing high quality play experiences giving every child the chance to shape their own world through inventive play. Children and parents will not notice any difference in the quality or appearance of the new elements, because plant-based polyethylene has the same properties as conventional polyethylene."

"But it's still plastic!" many readers will no doubt exclaim with indignation. Indeed, there was a heated debate around the TreeHugger virtual water cooler regarding our feelings about this announcement.

Lloyd's immediate question was, "How many acres of rainforest get cleared for sugar plantations?" But then he changed his tune somewhat after reading a comment by Dr. Stephen Mayfield, a molecular biologist at UC San Diego and director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology. Mayfield told Mashable that Lego is moving in the right direction:

"You’ll find haters, but it's way better than petroleum — so these people should be applauded for doing this." Switching from oil-based to plant-based plastics dramatically cuts the carbon footprint of a product by around 70 percent, Mayfield said. "The more we can go to biological sources, the better it is."

TreeHugger's editor Melissa is an avowed Lego fan who admires their partnership with WWF and "has faith that they would be thorough and do their homework. And they are Danish, after all." Comments moderator Tarrant shared my initial doubts, saying, "No, Lego, not really better," the same way she said she rolls her eyes at Apple eco-initiatives, but admits that she'll still buy Lego and keep Lego.

With three little boys running around my house, I inhabit a sea of Lego and, quite frankly, cannot imagine a world without it. My boys love Lego. They have a massive collection, most of it handed down from my two brothers who used it for a decade after inheriting it from another family. The stuff is indestructible, endlessly creative, and lives up to the company's promise that any "two LEGO bricks produced decades apart can still fit together," which is really saying something in this day and age of built-in obsolescence and shoddy construction.

Yes, it is plastic, and I usually hate plastic, but it's hard to hate a company that adds so much joy to my family's life and does appear to be making a sincere effort to come up with a better option. So far, the bioplastic botanicals will only comprise 1 to 2 percent of the total number of pieces made by the company, but this is just the start. The company's goal is to transition all of its blocks to sustainable materials by 2030.