LEGO Group’s new recycled plastic brick prototypes spell green for the toy company

On request from an 8-year-old fan, the LEGO Group releases a prototype set for its signature bricks made from recycled plastic in a bid to produce more sustainably.

by STIRworldPublished on : Aug 05, 2021

In the age of the truly global economy, and with the onset of rapid climate change, big enterprises and organisations are increasingly making the switch to sustainable design methods for their products. With a refined sense of corporate social responsibility, at least ostensibly, global commerce agglomerates are beginning to push a commitment to the environment and society at large in their agendas. The Denmark-based legendary toy company, The LEGO Group, recently released a “green” version of their signature brick: one made from recycled plastic. Named ‘Toy of the Century’ twice, their trademark product, the LEGO bricks in their current form were first introduced in 1958, proving to be literal building blocks for the foundation of the company. While traditionally, the manufacturing of LEGO blocks has been carried out using chemicals including ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) rendering the bricks single-use, LEGO now seeks to be in a position to adapt a completely sustainable outlook for its future products.

  • The signature LEGO bricks in their current form were first unveiled as long ago as 1958 | LEGO bricks from recycled plastic designed by LEGO Group | STIRworld
    The signature LEGO bricks in their current form were first unveiled as long ago as 1958 Image: Courtesy of LEGO Group
  • A letter from an 8-year-old fan prompted the LEGO group to push up its efforts in producing its basal products sustainably | LEGO bricks from recycled plastic designed by LEGO Group | STIRworld
    A letter from an 8-year-old fan prompted the LEGO group to push up its efforts in producing its basal products sustainably Image: Courtesy of LEGO Group

Interestingly, while the thought to invest in producing sustainably may have been part of the company’s R&D for years now, the drive for materialising that innovation was bolstered by the LEGO group receiving a letter from an 8-year-old fan, suggesting the company to not only manufacture its key product, the LEGO brick, from recycled plastic, but also to use cardboard separators instead of “crinkly” plastic. The recommendation proved to be a catalyst in their manufacturing process, accelerating the work of a team of over 150 experts that had been experimenting more sustainable methods of production for over three years, having tested over 250 variations of plastic from discarded bottles, including different permutations of PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) in the process. In line with the safety and durability of their products, the Danish toy company has finally come up with a viable solution.

  • Cleaning of PET flakes by extracting fine granules from recycled plastic | LEGO bricks from recycled plastic designed by LEGO Group | STIRworld
    Cleaning of PET flakes by extracting fine granules from recycled plastic Image: Courtesy of LEGO Group
  • Transferring the approved PET flakes into the compressor to mould into desired bricks | LEGO bricks from recycled plastic designed by LEGO Group | STIRworld
    Transferring the approved PET flakes into the compressor to mould into desired bricks Image: Courtesy of LEGO Group

Hoping to research further on this prototype, the Vice president of LEGO Group, Tim Brooks, commented, “We are super excited about this breakthrough. The biggest challenge on our sustainability journey is rethinking and innovating new materials that are as durable as our existing bricks, and fit with LEGO elements made over the past 60 years. With this prototype, we are able to showcase the progress we are making,” closing with a renewed hope for a greener future.       

  • Freshly made LEGO bricks from the machine, passed on to the review process | LEGO bricks from recycled plastic designed by LEGO Group | STIRworld
    Freshly made LEGO bricks from the machine, passed on to the review process Image: Courtesy of LEGO Group
  • Freshly moulded LEGO bricks from the compressor | LEGO bricks from recycled plastic designed by LEGO Group | STIRworld
    Freshly moulded LEGO bricks from the compressor Image: Courtesy of LEGO Group

In testing the prototype of the product, LEGO used recycled PET sourced from hundreds of suppliers in the USA approved by the US Foods & Drug Administration (FDA), and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)-vetted processes to ensure the same quality that the company’s products are synonymous with. Following multiple trials, the arithmetic that a one-litre plastic PET bottle was equivalent to ten 2 x 4 LEGO bricks was arrived at. To further increase the durability of the PET used in making these bricks, a patent-pending material formation is used to make the compound strong enough for LEGO bricks.

  • Reviewing the LEGO bricks with compression test | LEGO bricks from recycled plastic designed by LEGO Group | STIRworld
    Reviewing the LEGO bricks with a compression test Image: Courtesy of LEGO Group
  • Examining the LEGO bricks once moulded to ensure top-notch quality | LEGO bricks from recycled plastic designed by LEGO Group | STIRworld
    Examining the LEGO bricks once moulded to ensure top-notch quality Image: Courtesy of LEGO Group

Aiming for a complete transformation in their line-up of products starting befittingly from the LEGO bricks, the company has also announced a new method to remove single-use plastic from its packaging. The research and development on this innovation began in 2018, wherein the same research team began with producing packaging material from bio-polyethylene (bio-PE), sourced from sugarcane. This material, while suitable as an additive in the mixture to create sturdy packaging and boxes, was found to be unsuitable to be used as the primary material to create the relatively stronger LEGO bricks.

Infographic showcasing the recycling of PET and plastic from bottles into LEGO bricks | LEGO Bricks from recycled plastic designed by LEGO Group | STIRworld
Infographic showcasing the recycling of PET and plastic from bottles into LEGO bricks Image: Courtesy of LEGO Group

Speaking on the intended future impact of LEGO’s innovation and the value system he wished to inculcate and inspire with this, Brooks later concluded, “We are committed to playing our part in building a sustainable future for generations of children. We want our products to have a positive impact on the plant, not just with the play they inspire, but also with the materials we use. We still have a long way to go on our journey but we are pleased with the progress we are making.”

Armed with their new sustainable outlook, the LEGO group looks to overhaul production using these techniques in the coming years | LEGO Bricks from recycled plastic designed by LEGO Group | STIRworld
Armed with their new sustainable outlook, the LEGO group looks to overhaul production using these techniques in the coming years Image: Courtesy of LEGO Group

In the same direction, multiple future endeavours revealed by LEGO involve investing up to $400 million till 2022 to encourage the use of sustainably produced products. Bemusing as it is, Brooks’ belief in experimentation and failure as important parts of innovation, something that is the very essence of play for LEGO, found resonation with a young environmental enthusiast: one whose words could inspire a collaborative approach for an enterprise to re-look at its basics, now geared towards mammoth positive changes.

(Text by Jaival Mehta, intern at stirworld.com)

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