By Sean Vandehey
Generations of children have enjoyed playing with Lego bricks, but for the first time, those bricks are going to get a little greener - and not because of a new color, but because of a new kind of plastic. The Lego Group has partnered with the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and their BPA (Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance) program to introduce a new plant-based plastic, made from the ethanol in sugarcane rather than petroleum oils, into the Lego brick range. The specific Lego elements will be, appropriately enough, the softer green polyethylene pieces used to make green Lego plants, trees, bushes, and so on.
So the green Lego bricks will also be Green, which is a great start. The Lego Group has been investing heavily in ways to make their product, which consists primarily of petroleum based plastics, more sustainable, but this is the first time the actual manufacturing of the bricks themselves has changed. The new polyethylene is reported to be just as durable as the traditional version, and while the bricks involved make up just 2% of Lego's range, it's still a strong first step in a move towards increased sustainability. As it stands, Lego Group already recommends passing along older bricks, which maintain usability far longer than most toys due to their modular design, and as well damaged or worn-out bricks are recyclable like most plastics (though that may be easier in Denmark than it is here in the US).
While plastics themselves only make up 4% of global petroleum use, with another 4% used to power the manufacturing, any reduction in petroleum based plastic use, especially when replaced by a sustainable alternative, is welcome. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is only going to get worse under current trends, so while Lego likely makes up only a small portion of that waste, this move sends a strong signal that major manufacturers need to join in. Smaller companies like Green Toys already use 100% recycled plastic for their popular line of trucks and construction vehicles, and while recycle and bioplastics have yet to achieve the legendary (and painful) durability of a Lego brick, investments on the scale Lego has already put in will only continue to yield further advancement.
Though the new sets with greener green bricks won't make their way to store shelves until later in 2018, you can help on a local level to work towards a sustainable future for toys. If you have old boxes of toys (like Lego bricks) that you aren't using anymore, and want to keep them out of a landfill (or worse), you can donate them to kindergartens or day cares, Goodwill or other thrift stores, or mail them to someone like BrickRecyler, which specialize in resorting and resharing old Lego bricks.