by Madison Pravecek

A worldwide staple of childhood play, LEGO has announced that they are laying the bricks for a sustainable future and committing to use sustainable materials in their core products and packaging by 2030. Already in 2018, LEGO introduced a line of botanical pieces made out of plant-based plastic sourced from sugarcane. “At the LEGO Group we want to make a positive impact on the world around us, and are working hard to make great play products for children using sustainable materials. […] This is a great first step in our ambitious commitment of making all LEGO bricks using sustainable materials,” said Tim Brooks, Vice President, Environmental Responsibility at the LEGO Group.

This 2030 aim is part of a larger ongoing move towards sustainability for LEGO. The plan to make their famous bricks out of sustainable materials was announced in 2012, and in 2015 the company pledged 1 billion kr. (more than $155 million) to make it happen. LEGO also hired one hundred new employees to work in the Lego Sustainable Materials Centre (further proof that sustainability leads to job creation!) The botanical elements introduced in 2018 are made from polyethylene, which is a soft, durable and flexible plastic, and while they are based on sugar-cane material, they are technically identical to those produced using conventional plastic. Since the introduction of the new “bioplastic” bricks, the LEGO Group has partnered with World Wildlife Fund to support and build demand for sustainably sourced plastic, and has joined the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA) an initiative of WWF, to secure fully sustainable sourcing of raw material for the bioplastics industry.

This isn’t to say that the transition to sustainability is all easy. The LEGO Group is uncompromising when it comes to the quality of their products; with this transition, they are focused on ensuring that LEGO bricks remain the same in function so that two LEGO bricks produced decades apart can still fit together. Finding the right material hasn’t worked out perfectly yet; according to a New York Times article, “Most test materials, both bio-based and recycled, have so far fallen short. Some bricks made with the new materials have broken, leaving sharp edges that could injure a child, or have popped out with ugly, muddied colors”. Furthermore, there are concerns with sourcing plastic from sugarcane. While there are studies which show that sugarcane plantation did not contribute to direct deforestation, sugarcane is still a water and labor-intensive crop. Despite all the hurdles presented, with the proper R&D and experimentation, this could have a major impact on the toy industry as a whole!

Why This Matters: While the world may be focused on plastic bags and plastic straws, we need to recognize that our reliance on plastic is ingrained from a young age. Even benign childhood play can have a big impact- according to Brooks, LEGO emits about a million tons of carbon dioxide each year, about three-quarters of which comes from the raw materials that go into its factories. If innovative companies like LEGO figure out ways to make their products more sustainable, not only will it decrease their emissions, but it will also help instill values of eco-awareness in children. However, it is important to note that while industry change is key in creating a sustainable future, governments play a crucial role in fostering an atmosphere that is conducive to sustainable innovation. It is no surprise that a Danish company is leading the way in sustainability as Denmark is already incredibly eco-conscious both in culture and policy– furthermore, as part of the European Union Denmark will be subject to the EU carbon tax set to decrease their greenhouse gases 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

The name ‘LEGO’ is an abbreviation of the two Danish words “leg godt“, meaning “play well”- we are excited for a future where “playing well” also takes care of the planet!

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