Plastic-Free Legos? Toy Giant Seeks Alternative Material for Blocks

“Back in my day, these Legos used to be plastic. Can you believe that?” This may not be too uncommon a phrase for parents in a few decades thanks to a $150 million initiative from the Lego Group. The Danish toymaker says it’s looking for a better way to make those plastic building blocks that bring many child architects joy while never failing to appear beneath their parents’ feet.  

The $150 million — or 1 billion Danish Krones — will go toward researching, developing and implementing building blocks made from alternative materials. When the Lego Group announced this groundbreaking initiative, it committed to hiring more than 100 specialists to assist with the project. The Group did, however, clearly articulate that this project won’t be speedy, setting a deadline of 2030.

More than 45 billion Lego pieces were made in 2012, Upworthy reported. The pieces sold were enough to circle the world about 18 times. And Lego runs through more than 6,000 tons of plastic each year. This monstrous carbon footprint moved the Lego Group to take action and change the material of its famous little pieces.

“This is a major step for the Lego Group on our way towards achieving our 2030 ambition on sustainable materials,” Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, former Lego Group CEO and president, said in a 2015 press release. “We have already taken important steps to reduce our carbon footprint and leave a positive impact on the planet…Now we are accelerating our focus on materials.

As NationSwell reported, Americans discard 14.4 million tons of plastic a year while only 13 percent of it gets recycled. Wide-scale efforts to cut back plastic usage and waste are springing up around the world. Grocery stores and local governments have implemented plastic bag fees for shoppers, charging consumers a few coins for every bag they need. The Reduce, Reuse, Recycle campaign brought a much-needed awareness and energy to the sustainability movement.

Yet still, carbon footprints continue to grow. The United States throws away $11.4 billion worth of recyclables away annually, reports the Economist. And more than eight million metric tons of plastic waste finds the world’s oceans each year, reports the New York Times, at a rate that is likely to “increase greatly” in the coming decades.

Lego’s efforts to minimize harm on the environment didn’t begin with its idea to transform its plastic blocks to another material. Lego famously cut ties with Shell, its 50-year partner, after Shell’s plan to drill for oil in the Arctic gained public dissent. Conversely, Lego then established a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund.

Lego’s massive reach of 100 million kids in 140 countries presents the organization with a fantastic opportunity to seek alternative ways to responsibly create the same, fun-loving toy that shaped many of our childhoods. Once the company figures out a new material, maybe it will move to implement a Lego piece that turns soft and squishy when it hits the ground and save bare feet the world over. 

Photo by Sonny Abesamis/Flickr

Grant Whittington

Grant Whittington is a rising junior journalism and government and politics double major at the University of Maryland: College Park. Living so close to the nation's capital, Whittington is an unfortunate D.C. sports fan who's passionate about politics and writing. He's worked for local county newspapers and has never seen Shawshank Redemption.

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