Danish toy production company Lego announced in 2018 that it would stop its production of plastic blocks by 2030 and will alternatively use plant-based material in their attempt to reduce plastic waste. While they are embracing the topic of sustainability, its head of corporate responsibility Tim Brooks told global news agency AFP that they have no plan to abandon plastic. Instead, they aim to improve the materials they use in producing the toy bricks and that it will be 100% sustainable by 2030.
“We want to use plastic in a responsible way,” Brooks said, adding that they want it in to be durable, high quality, and reusable. They are encouraging their customers to pass their Lego kits or bricks on to younger generations the reason why they want it to be durable and reusable. The robustness of their bricks means that the toy can survive generations even if the player accidentally stands on them. This is also one of the best selling points of Lego bricks.
How to make it 100% sustainable
Currently, the majority of Lego pieces are made of a petroleum-based substance called acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS). It is the same substance used in making household appliances. However, they have already made changes in their materials. For instance, 2% of their overall plastic pieces are now made of a sugarcane-based polyethylene, which is a bio-sourced material. They said that it is a technical challenge since most of these bio-sourced materials come from bushes, leaves, and trees that do not meet the same durability standards as their past productions.
Lego said that they do not want their customers to notice that the Lego bricks they are purchasing today are no longer the same as the old plastic materials. The physical properties they mention are sticking power, colorfastness, and strength, of the toy bricks. As of now, the team has refused to share their production secrets but ensured the public that they are reusing their waste products in producing the materials.
Brooks went on to say that using recycled materials is “very interesting” but one also needs to understand where these materials are coming from. In 2014, the company also said that they will be reducing their carbon footprint by partnering with the international non-governmental organization World Wide Fund for Nature, which is working in the field of wilderness preservation and the reduction of human impact on the environment.
Climate savings in making toys
WWF Denmark's head Bo Oksnebjer said that Lego has shifted to using wildcraft as a renewable energy source and made climate savings in the process. Now, they are looking into using alternatives to plastic. Lego is also currently working to improve its toy packaging by reducing the plastic bags that separate the Lego pieces. They have also slashed the size of the toy boxes to lessen the transport volumes. By 2025, the company aims to use only renewable or recycled materials.
Being the parent company of Lego, Kirkby has also invested almost $1 billion in wind turbines for the production of electric power. Environmental group Surfrider Europe’s spokeswoman Antidia Citores said via science and technology platform Phys.org that Lego also needs to consider their production end since it will not reduce emissions if they are only planning to replace one plastic with another. That move is not a revolution, especially in terms of carbon emissions and pollution, she added.
Recycled plastic toys, though, also contain one of the thousand chemicals that is restricted under the toy safety legislation in a country, said Natasha Crookes from the British Toy and Hobby Association. This is what makes it a challenge to produce environmentally-friendly toys for kids.
Approximately 20 billion Lego elements or bricks are produced every year in the Lego factory in Billund, Denmark. This is equivalent to about 2 million bricks produced per hour or 35,000 per minute. The mods they are using in the production are 0.0002 mm, so accurate that only 18 out of a million bricks produced fail to meet the company’s high-quality standard, reports the National Geographic.
In terms of Lego brickumentary, a mathematics professor shared that there are 915,103,765 ways to combine six Lego bricks. The world’s children spend about 5 billion hours a year playing Lego elements.
In a worldwide survey conducted by database company Statista, the brand value of Lego in 2015 reached US$ 5.4 billion, which increased to 6.7 billion in 2016, 7.02 billion in 2017, 6.5 billion in 2018, and 6.9 billion in 2019.
When the first Lego miniature appeared, people decided that toys’ faces should only have one color and that is yellow. The facial features should also portray a neutral and happy face. There are now many guises that Lego figures appear in, including Steven Spielberg, Spiderman, and Santa Claus.
But just as the piles of plastic toys take up space of many family homes, environmentalists are also saying that they are contributing to the amount of plastic that ends up in oceans and landfills.
The estimated share of global plastic waste disposal methods is recycled (19.50%), incinerated (25.50%), and discarded (55.00%). Packaging was the dominant use of primary plastics, with 42% of plastics entering the use phase. This is according to Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems. If measured in tonnes per year, the packaging industry produces 146 million tonnes, the building and construction industry 65 million tonnes, other sectors 59 million tonnes, textiles industry 47 million tonnes, consumer and institutional products 42 million tonnes, transportation industry 27 million tonnes, electrical and electronics industry 18 million tonnes, and industrial machinery 3 million tonnes.
In March 2018, BBC reported that Lego “made too many bricks.” It had too much stock in their shops and warehouses and there wasn’t enough to get the toys into stores. Nevertheless, about 75 billion bricks are sold annually in more than 140 countries. The Danish company has also tested ways for customers to recycle bricks by informing their customers that they can ship their unwanted bricks back to them so that it will be given to other kids. Their program started in the US.
Resources should be used and sourced responsibly and this is what Lego has recognized. If their project will be proven successful, it can benefit not only today’s generation but the future as well. By collaborating with environmental charities, Lego is also showing that fossil fuel-free toys can be a reality soon.