It started with a letter from an eight-year-old fan. “I’m writing to you because I want to see an end to single-use plastic.”
The hand-written note requested LEGO use cardboard separators instead of crinkly plastic to separate bricks and suggested the toy giant “make your bricks out of recycled plastic” instead of new plastic. To sign off, the kid wrote: “I still love LEGO so much but I don’t want it to harm the environment”.
LEGO listened, and today it unveiled a new prototype LEGO bricks made from recycled plastics in a move it’s calling “the latest step in its journey to make LEGO products from sustainable materials”.
The new recycled plastic LEGO bricks use PET plastic from discarded bottles, which is awesome (and necessary) when you consider the fact that around 373 million plastic water bottles end up as waste each year and each take up to 1000 years to decompose.
Over the past three years, a team of 150 people have been working to produce the prototype you see here. Materials scientists and engineers tested over 250 variations of PET materials and hundreds of other plastic formulations. It was important to the team to nail the look and feel of traditional LEGO blocks, whilst maintaining the “clutch power” that holds bricks together. They’re calling it a “breakthrough”.
“The biggest challenge on our sustainability journey is rethinking and innovating new materials that are as durable, strong and high quality as our existing bricks – and fit with LEGO elements made over the past 60 years,” said Tim Brooks, vice president of environmental responsibility at the LEGO Group, in a release.
“We know kids care about the environment and want us to make our products more sustainable. Even though it will be a while before they will be able to play with bricks made from recycled plastic, we want to let kids know we’re working on it and bring them along on the journey with us. Experimentation and failing is an important part of learning and innovation. Just as kids build, unbuild and rebuild with LEGO bricks at home, we’re doing the same in our lab.”
The bricks are not yet available as more testing will need to be done before they can be produced on a mass scale. It could be a year before engineers decide to move on with this formula, but if they do, it’s estimated that a one-litre PET plastic bottle could be used to make 10 standard LEGO bricks.
It’s a welcome and, quite frankly, non-negotiable step in the right direction, and the new sustainable brick are part of a bigger journey for LEGO, which has committed US $400 million until 2022 to accelerating its eco goals.
Brooks said: “We’re committed to playing our part in building a sustainable future for generations of children. We want our products to have a positive impact on the planet, not just with the play they inspire, but also with the materials we use. We still have a long way to go on our journey but are pleased with the progress we’re making.”