This is how a loved toy company is going green5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Remember the company that made these beautiful bonsais?
Well, that’s LEGO, a Danish company that makes pretty little building blocks. Practically anything can be created out of these blocks! For a major part of the world, and across generations, LEGO has defined childhood. The Danish company has given children across age-groups the chance to build helicopters, houses, people, skyscraper buildings, fire-trucks, and most recently, flowers and bonsais.
Its botanical collection is made out of blocks that are made out of sugarcane. So, it is sustainable.
However, LEGO has had a long history with plastic.
Ever since 1963, most LEGO pieces are made out of superior plastic called Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). ABS is a petroleum based plastic that is non-biodegradable. While it gives the building blocks the right amount of sturdiness, shine, and colour, it also adds a lot of plastic waste world. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Plymouth showed that LEGO blocks can survive anywhere between 100-1,300 years in marine environments! In 2018, its greenhouse gas emissions amounted to 1.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents.
But the good news is that the company is well aware of these problems, and has come up with a plan for sustainability.
- Carbon neutral manufacturing by 2022:
For this, LEGO is enabling solar panelling across all factories. Attempts will also be made to reduce water usage by 10% in 2022 compared to 2019.
- Removal of plastic from packaging by 2025:
Even though the process is only in the trial stage, LEGO reports that it is on schedule.
- Finding a replacement for plastic for the 1,00,000 tons of blocks it produces every year by 2030:
LEGO has a dedicated team of hundred professionals working to find raw materials that mimic the properties of the oil-based product they are currently using.
The current LEGO block is durable, and can last many years. It is safe as its edges are not sharp, even when it breaks. It can withstand different temperatures, and it does not react to other chemicals easily. Finding an alternative may not be an easy task but LEGO plans on achieving it by 2030. As of now, sugarcane is a strong contender.
To this end, it has made an investment of USD 400 million into a green fund at the company.
How does sugarcane plastic work?
Apart from being the favourite food of our cute furry friends, Pandas, sugarcane has many other strong points.
Sugarcane, and other feeding stocks, can be used to procure Biopolyethylene, as they absorb carbon dioxide as they grow.
Biopolyethylene is a plant-based plastic that is biodegradable (though it may take several decades). The plants from LEGO’s plant collections are 98% Biopolyethylene in keeping with the sustainability guidelines laid out by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
LEGO has also set up a program called LEGO Replay Scheme. Under this scheme, LEGO encourages its users to donate their pre-used bricks to children in need of the excitement LEGO brings! The scheme was launched in the US, and will be introduced to two more countries before the end of 2022.
LEGO owes part of this change to the letters written by its young users showing concern about the amount of plastic and its impact on the environment! This just goes out to show that each voice matters! We just have to know how to tell our story (Have you seen what Owliver has in store for you to help you in this regard?).
The curious case of LEGO and coral reefs
Major land reclamation, coastal development, and sea port activity have adversely effected the coral reefs of Singapore. And Neo Mei Lin, and her colleague Jani Tanzil, marine scientists at National University of Singapore’s Tropical Marine Science Institute, have a solution to the problem and it involves LEGOS!
The two scientists are spearheading a reef rejuvenation project that requires LEGO.
They needed flat, stable surfaces to support the growth of the reefs, and LEGO offered a great foundation. Neo and Tenzil collect existing coral from thee sea bed and attach them to the LEGO to begin the regeneration process. When the reefs grow, they will be detached from the LEGO and returned to the ocean. See how these LEGO reefs look:
Think about the toys you have at home. Do they contribute to plastic waste? If yes, are there any ways to minimise their effects? Find out, and let Owliver know in the comments below!
With excerpts from Bloomberg, Vice, LEGO, Ecowatch, CNBC, and Ragus