LEGO's first sustainable bricks are here!

Posted by ,

LEGO has repeatedly expressed their desire to manufacture products using more sustainable and environmentally friendly materials over the next few years. Progress is evidently being made in this field as LEGO has announced that most botanical elements, like those on the right, will now be made from a plant-based plastic.

The plastic is sourced from sugar cane and has been very thoroughly tested to ensure that it matches the impressive standard of LEGO's existing materials. These elements will appear in 2018 sets so I look forward to encountering them and finding out whether the new plastic can be distinguished from the old.

You can read the entire press release below...

LEGO botanical elements such as leaves, bushes and trees will be made from plant-based plastic sourced from sugarcane in the future and will appear in LEGO boxes already in 2018.

Production has started on a range of sustainable LEGO elements made from plant-based plastic sourced from sugarcane. The new sustainable LEGO ‘botanical’ elements will come in varieties including leaves, bushes and trees.

“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. We are proud that the first LEGO elements made from sustainably sourced plastic are in production and will be in LEGO boxes this year. 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.

The move is part of the LEGO Group’s commitment to use sustainable materials in core products and packaging by 2030.

Uncompromised quality and safety

The new sustainable LEGO elements 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. The elements have been tested to ensure the plant-based plastic meets the high standards for quality and safety that the LEGO Group has, and consumers expect from LEGO products.

“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,” said Tim Brooks.

The unique LEGO brick design, and the LEGO Group’s uncompromised focus on quality and safety during the past 60 years ensures that two LEGO bricks produced decades apart can still fit together. As the LEGO Group is working towards using sustainable materials in its core products and packaging, it will remain strongly rooted and driven by the uncompromised focus on high product quality and safety.

Building children’s future one brick at a time

The LEGO Group has partnered with WWF 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. The plant based plastic used to make the botanical LEGO elements is certified by the Bonsucro Chain of Custody standard for responsibly sourced sugarcane. Read more here.

“It is essential that companies in each industry find ways to responsibly source their product materials and help ensure a future where people, nature, and the economy thrive,” said Alix Grabowski, a senior program officer at WWF. “The LEGO Group’s decision to pursue sustainably sourced bio-based plastics represents an incredible opportunity to reduce dependence on finite resources, and their work with the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance will allow them to connect with other companies to continue to think creatively about sustainability.”

About LEGO elements made from plants

  • Polyethylene elements are 1-2% of the total amount of plastic elements produced by the LEGO Group; The sustainable product range covers LEGO botanical elements such as leaves, bushes and trees made entirely from plant-based plastic.
  • Plant-based polyethylene used in LEGO elements is made from ethanol produced from sugarcane.
  • The sugarcane used is sourced sustainably in accordance with guidance from the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA) and is certified by the Bonsucro Chain of Custody standard for responsibly sourced sugarcane.
  • All suppliers must comply with the LEGO Group’s Code of Conduct, which specifies strict requirements for ethical, environmental and health & safety standards based on leading global guidelines.
  • The LEGO Group works closely with its suppliers to ensure life-cycle assessments are conducted, which map the environmental impacts from the production of the bio-based material.

What is a sustainable material?

There is no common definition of a sustainable material. Several aspects influence the sustainability of a material. It is to a high degree determined by its source, chemical composition, its use (in a product) and management (at end-of-life), and the impact it can have in both environmental and social areas.

The LEGO Group believes 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.

About sustainability at the LEGO Group

  • The LEGO Group partners with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), as part of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in manufacturing and supply chain operations, and promote global action on climate change.
  • Through investments in wind power, the energy used to make LEGO bricks is balanced by the production of renewable energy.
  • The LEGO Group targeted 2030 to reach zero waste in operations, and introduced sustainable paper pulp trays for the LEGO advent calendar, reducing plastic waste from going to landfill.

 

Sponsored content

62 comments on this article

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

I was under the impression, that bioplastics begin to biodegrade in a matter of years as opposed to the hundreds required for oil based plastics. I hope that lego has worked out a way for them to last longer!

Gravatar
By in United States,

Cool!

Gravatar
By in Czech Republic,

We can talk in 10-15 years, guys!

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

I too was under the impression that these kind of plastics began to break down and degrade quickly... hence why they are 'environmentally friendly'.

But this does sound like some kind of bunko. I mean '1-2% of lego peices'... soo essentially less then 2% of all lego produced will use this bio-material? So 98%+ of lego is still going to be the old fashioned oil based stuff?

Also, given its soft plastic, its not going to be suitable for your standard brick now is it?

edit: I'll also note, that bio-polyethene requires large amounts of agricultural land to grow, not to mention fertilisers and pesticides to keep such a crop healthy... meaning potentially, it has a much higher environmental impact such as producing more carcinogens and contributing to soil acidification.

Gravatar
By in France,

All for this.
^^^ same question crossed my mind as to whether this type of plastic is biodegradable?

Gravatar
By in Netherlands,

I think it is a really early april's fool.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

mmmmmmmmm, sugar cane, hope they taste as good as they sound

Gravatar
By in Netherlands,

It is the same polymer TLG want to use, but the source is different.
Which means nothing (hopefully) will change.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Okay... quick bit of research has found that Bio-polyethylene is not biodegradable and needs to be sent to a facility to be recycled... so we shouldn't have the worry of our bricks falling apart on us.

However, apart from the aforementioned enviromental impact of growing it, Bio-plastics when they do break down produce methane... which is a lot more harmful then the carbon-dioxide normal plastic production produces.

So... yeah... While the actual turning into plastic takes less energy and produces less carbon dioxide... there are a lot of wider problems with it as a resource that means it may be something of a double edged sword.

Gravatar
By in United States,

@GrizBe If I had the bet, LEGO is trying it out with a small number of elements, especially those that are easily identifiable, so if there are issues in the future, it is easier to know if this was the cause. Most moves take baby steps, so them wanting to go with a relatively small amount of parts at first seems to be a logical choice, especially given that they type of plastic used in plant elements is not the same as used in the classic bricks. I would not be surprised that they are working on standard bricks to also be made out of plant based material, but making LEGO plants out of it was closer to being finished, and made for a good PR opportunity.

As for the crops bit, I was a bit skeptical myself from the first few lines. However, as the article explains, LEGO has joined the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, which is an initiative of the World Wildlife Fund, and specifically lists "responsibly sourced sugarcane" as it's source.

Gravatar
By in Switzerland,

Renewable/Sugar-cane Polyethylene

Benefits

One of the main environmental benefits of the Green PE is the sequestration of roughly 2,15 ton of CO2 per ton of Green Polyethylene produced, which comes from the CO2 absorbed by the sugar cane while growing, minus the CO2 emitted through the production process. Renewable polyethylene is non-biodegradable and can be recycled in the same waste streams as traditional polyethylenes (HDPE, LDPE, LLDPE) as it is chemically identical.[3]

Disadvantages

Producing feedstock for biopolyethylene relies upon intensive agriculture, potentially contributing to deforestation in order to clear land for agricultural use. Large-scale production of feedstock also requires inputs such as fossil fuels, fertilizers, and pesticides. A recent life cycle assessment on biopolymers and fossil-fuel based polymers showed various life cycle impacts associated with bio-PET, including acidification, carcinogens, and fossil fuel depletion.[4]

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

@Roborider: I saw the bit about the World Wildlife Fund being involved, and its been noted in the past that some of their scheme have actually caused the problems to get worse as small farmers 'just trying to feed their families' join the scheme, then convert or destroy land to whatever crop they've been asked to produce illegally. So while its a good idea in theory... in practice its not always so perfect.

So for now, I'll remain sceptical.

Good point however on the small sample size.... but yeah, think for now this is more of a PR stunt then anything else.

Gravatar
By in Germany,

So technically this is a confirmation that elements like 2435, 6148, 3471 were always made out of PE? I always thought they'd be PP (Poly-Propylene) like 2530 (pirate cutlass), 3962 (walkie-talkie) or 4499 (bow & arrow). It might solve another one of the 36 plastic types used^^

Regarding the degrading, since PE has a relatively simple chemical structure it really should be identical to the previous one. The only problem might be additives that are missing (or were not there before) nobody has yet recognized. Will be really interesting to see how it turns out. Unfortunately it should proof difficult to be certain wether a set contains the new parts or the old ones, since they are usually using up old stock before giving new part variations out.

The methane notion is interesting, didn't know that before. Though also a bit disappointing...

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Bio-SOURCED plastics are not biodegradable. This is only about the source of the compounds used to make the polythene. It is plant based rather than oil based. It has nothing to do with end of life of the polymer. Bio-source and oil-sourced polythene will be the same.

Also it is not true that all botanical parts will be made this way, since the 1x1 flowers are currently ABS. Unless they are going to chnge those to PE too.

Gravatar
By in United States,

Huh. Interesting.

Gravatar
By in Germany,

This is big and I am super looking forward to thoroughly test them!

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

It makes sense to make the botanical elements the first to be made from plant plastics, hopefully these plastic changes won't have a negative impact upon the price and quality of Lego sets.

Gravatar
By in Sweden,

Very cool, and very clever making the plant-type parts the first to use it.

Also, since there seems to be confusion in the comments, just because something is made from renewable materials that doesn't automatically mean it'll be biodegradable. Two completely different things.

Gravatar
By in United States,

So Lego cuts down on oil use but increases the demand for sugar cane farms, thus leading to more rainforest destruction...

Seems like this decision does zero for the evironment.

Gravatar
By in United States,

Wow, lots of great information in all of the comments about this. The worry I have is if any of the plant elements will be flimsier than their abs counterpart. Also the smell. Different plastics smell differently under certain conditions so I'm wondering if the parts will smell if locked inside of a cardboard box for a couple of years. I'm interested in knowing what is being produced now that uses the same "bio-degradable" plastic so we can get a sense of what's to come. And the real question is, if another compound is needed to degrade it, how are they going to apply that compound if those pieces might end up randomly scattered in a dump?

Gravatar
By in United States,

@Graysmith: Lego group are masters of marketing.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

I was going to say whats been said. Sounds like an April Fool to me. What's next Lego thats safe for small children to eat......... But in regards to 0 waste. Appeal to more Adults. I can assure you I keep EVERYTHING plastic bags, boxes, liners, instructions. I took a box out of the recycling last week as my daughther had a tidy in her room. Its all lightweight and fits inside other lego boxes. 0 Landfill for me.

Gravatar
By in United States,

What they should really do is condense their instructions to use less paper (and take up less space in my house). It seems like the books are about 2-3 times bigger than they need to be. So many steps with one piece on a full page.

Gravatar
By in Puerto Rico,

I just hope they actually look and feel the same like LEGO promises.

Gravatar
By in Netherlands,

The actual benefit to the climate remains to be seen... This is mostly a PR thing.

I remain skeptical about bioplastics, but it is atleast a step in the right direction. This will atleast ensure our oil reserves will get depleted a little bit slower.

Gravatar
By in United States,

Interesting note about the instructions. These days most companies are trying to reduce paper, not use more. Lego has gone the opposite way, presumably to make the sets easier for beginners. It would be interesting for then to find a middle ground and reduce the clutter. I'd prefer one book to having 5 small ones too.

Gravatar
By in United States,

My recurring dream/nightmare of making a giant MOC - usually an epic Star Destroyer - and then being horrified as I'm unable to stop eating it is now one step closer to reality. Thank you LEGO, you've now legitimized my insanity.

Gravatar
By in United States,

Also wanted to say, this stunt would be a great opportunity to release a parts pack full of random trees and shrubs. I really miss those from the old days!

Gravatar
By in United States,

before we know it they't gonna start having gluten-free and meat free legos for all those other people :-P

Gravatar
By in United States,

No talk about cost. That leads me to believe it is more expensive. If it were less expensive they'd surely tout that aspect as well.

Gravatar
By in United States,

@rex501: If there is gluten or meat in your existing Lego then the only thing it indicates is that you ought to wash your hands before building.

Regarding deforestation, the fact that Lego is having this new plastic certified by Bonsucro should help alleviate those concerns. They've done their homework on the issue—they're not just diving in blind.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

On the note of instuctions. I think an easy fix would be to do two versions of them.

Make the books that go in box with less steps to reduce paper in them. Then, for beginners / people who aren't sure of a step, do an online pdf version with the only a couple of parts per step.

Gravatar
By in United States,

@GrizBe: That solution is impractical since most beginners (and most customers in general) will be kids, who won't necessarily be as capable of looking online for PDFs. Putting barriers to Lego's biggest audience is a bad move.

In general the instructions are probably a non-issue. Thorough instructions hurt no one, and Lego has already taken steps to make their instructions more sustainable. Lego's packaging and instructions are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, ensuring that the paper and cardboard used is sourced from sustainable forests where trees are harvested at a lower rate than the rate at which they can be replaced by full-grown trees.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Would be nice to see the old tall cypress tree reintroduced.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

^Most lego buyers are AFOL's though, or, people who have some experience building sets.

Kids are a lot more tech savey then most people think these days, plus, since its usually parents that buy sets for kids, its not really a massive inconveniance to find and download them for 99% of the population who may need them.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

TLG will have put a lot more effort into researching this than folk are giving them credit for. Given they've already declared that all their factories etc. are using equivalent 100% renewable energy from wind farms etc. I think they are sincere in trying to establish a source of plastic that doesn't rely upon fossil fuels for the sake of the environment but also as a company they will want to continue to exist long after fossil fuels are depleted. As for PR and marketing, TLG are indeed masters and I think the choice of plant and foliage shapes is a very good choice regarding advertising but as it's already been suggested these elements are easy to identify should there be any issues with the quality. Very few companies heavily invest in trying to make a difference - TLG should be respected for this decision in my humble opinion

Gravatar
By in United States,

Hmmm... this is actually a pretty big deal, when was the last time they modified their formula? Especially considering the current formula is so well proven.

Gravatar
By in Sweden,

@Bustin Sugar cane is at the very least a renewable resource. Crude oil and such isn't. This might not be a gigantic leap as far as the environment goes, but it's a first step and an important one.

Gravatar
By in Canada,

Awesome!! Go Lego!!

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Plants made of plant-based plastic - love it!

Gravatar
By in United States,

You can make plant based plastics that don't break down, it is 2018.

It will be interesting to see if they have the same quality or not, as the oil based quality has really suffered the last few years. And this year the paint job of minifigures is so bad that knockoffs do a better job.

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Yeah, but does it taste good?

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Read a few instructions comments and I agree one page with one piece seems a little easy even for a 6 yr old. Ive just bought some vintage lego (1972-1976) and as this was before I was capable of building its the earliest ive seen. These instructions are far from obvious. A compromise would be good. If they list the parts needed in the top left , like they do now, then 5-10 parts per page is surely followable. Are we MORE impressed by a large instruction book ? I hope not.

Gravatar
By in South Africa,

Hey LEGO Group How about some "Green Packs" to celebrate like the old tree bundles 6317, 6305 Or even some Cypress Trees as in set 5192....let's make everything "Green"

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

It is a nice first move.
But Sugar Cane production is not that green. It has caused a lot of problems in the past just for sugar production.
Now TLG need to source ABS or another similar plastic from Green sources.
Probably ought to be Coppiced Willows or maybe Bamboo in the temperate zones? if those are viable carbon sources?

Gravatar
By in New Zealand,

Regarding instruction books vs pdfs, the 60th anniversary sets do a mix. Some of the suggested creations have instructions in the book, while for others the book directs you to look online for the instructions.

Gravatar
By in United States,

Will they be making an updated Poison Ivy minifig made out of this stuff?

Gravatar
By in United States,

Wow.

Gravatar
By in Indonesia,

OMG YES
but how will they stand up to ABS?

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

Well, TLG have followed through on their commitments (I wouldn't necessarily say promises) a lot faster than expected. Obviously there are negatives to the sugar cane plastic, from required crop land to integrity of the finished bricks, but I think a lot of people are overlooking the key point here - crude oil-based plastic is finite, but crop-based plastic isn't.

Besides, if anyone has a hangup about it, there are billions of normal plastic elements already in circulation so by all means stock up before everything is plant-based.

Gravatar
By in United States,

Great move in replacing the botanical elements with a bio-sourced polyethylene. I am curious as to whether they will be able to make significant progress replacing the ABS that has been used in the other 97% of Lego elements.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think bio-ABS has been achieved yet or if it has a bio-sourced equivalent. One of the reasons ABS was adopted by Lego and why it is used in so many children's toys, plumbing and general plastic goods is because of its amazing qualities.

Though I wouldn't be surprised if Lego would be the ones to achieve the impossible.

Gravatar
By in Switzerland,

This is very unfortunate. As Bustin, darkstonegrey and others have already pointed out, this will not make LEGO pieces more environmentally friendly. Quite the contrary might be the case, with enormous land-use, deforestation, water scarcity, pollution due to fertilizers etc. being results of the plastic production with sugar cane.

The only reason I can see why the LEGO Group did this decision, is that they want customers to believe this step will make their products more environmentally friendly and thus to buy even more LEGO. Marketing at its finest...

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

The "green" movement is about politics and perception, not real change that could better things for the world. Compare the rage with which they treat an oil-slicked guillemot but the apathy towards an eagle killed by a wind turbine. Or the holy status given to Paris which allows China and India to build more coal power stations and *increase* CO2 just so long as the US shuts down more coal mines and steel mills. And we know how the push for palm oil and sugarcane leads to the destruction of rainforests and reduction in food production just so bien pensant liberals can have sustainable plastic coffee cups. I jumped off the Al "seas will rise and drown us all" Gore bandwagon years ago after he bought a $5m beach house with the proceeds of his "green" work flying around the world in his private business jet. Incidentally, as I see 15 inches of snow in my spring garden, I'm reminded of the warning from Gore and the greens about how snow will be a thing of the past in a decade, and our children will only know it in movies and books. That was 15 years ago. No wonder they changed "global warming" to "climate change". But it wasn't the first time they changed its name. In the 70s the climate scientists were insisting "global cooling" was the big threat to existence and we were heading for a new Ice Age and the historical temperature record proved it. One wishes they would make their mind up what the incontrovertible data proves.

This is a marketing gimmick by TLG. And it will work. What I want to know is will I have to pay more for the "same thing", and what will they do to help soften the effects of increased sugar cane production. I expect he answer to those questions will be "more", and "nothing". But give me a cypress tree and I might shut up.

Gravatar
By in Australia,

Baby steps to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.... I like it !!
And wow - a lot of ' google expert' negativity in this thread.

Gravatar
By in Greece,

Great move! Hopefully they are durable and pieces last 793659395293563678 years ;-)

Gravatar
By in United States,

Online instructions are nice if you've got a good-sized monitor or tablet to view them on. Personally, I prefer printed instructions. Having recently built #6067 Dark Dragon's Den using the original printed instructions from 1993, I must say that current instructions are vastly improved. The instructions for #6067 are almost like those puzzles where you are shown to very similar pictures and challenged to find the differences.

Gravatar
By in Poland,

Isn't it pointless? Surely no madman throws their Lego away anyway? Bricks should last forever! Amen.

Gravatar
By in United States,

What I want to know is: How long will these bricks last in a condition that allows play with them?

If it's 80-100 years I won't care because I'll be dead by the time they degrade in all likelyhood, but if it's 1-20 years...

I might just start binging on every single lego set I can acquire before Lego replaces their sets with sets that biodegrade after a decade.

I would very much like to pass these sets on to any offspring I have and experience the glorious sensation of stepping on Vader's lightsaber when a bundle of joy leaves him lying around and I experience a call of nature at 2 AM in the morning.

Gravatar
By in United States,

@Alonzo Brickovsky and @Dalek135: This isn't about what happens to the bricks after people own them, it's about reducing the environmental costs of producing the plastic in the first place. The plant pieces mentioned here will not be biodegradable — they're still polyethylene, the same type of plastic as before, it's just that the polyethylene is being made in a different way from different raw materials.

Now, there's no telling whether they'll be able to find such a perfect replacement for their other petroleum-based plastics like ABS and Polycarbonate, but that's why they gave their researchers 30 or so years to figure that out.

Gravatar
By in Indonesia,

Hopefully Lego's bio-plastic won't go the same way as once well-intended bio-fuels.

Bio-fuels were thought to be environment friendly and advertised by the environmentalists. After a while it turned out that mostly tropical forests were cut down at an accelerated rate to be replaced by corn and palm oil trees to meet demand for supposedly environmentally responsible bio-fuel.

The issue is not how responsibly sugar cane or palm oil is grown. Instead, the issue is that increased use of bio-plastics results in increased aggregate demand for these industrial crops, resulting in more sugar cane plantations, which in turn accelerates deforestation.

Lego's press-release does unfortunately not explain how they prevent this adverse, and no doubt unwanted, effect.

Return to home page »