Introducing The First Lego Bricks Built from Recycled PET Plastic Bottles
[June 24, 2021: Josh Shavit]
A prototype Lego brick made from recycled plastic was unveiled by The Lego Group today. It’s the latest step in the brand’s journey to make Lego products from sustainable materials.
The new prototype, which uses PET plastic from discarded bottles, is the first brick made from a recycled material to meet the company’s strict quality and safety requirements.
A team of more than 150 people are working to find sustainable solutions for Lego products. Over the past three years, materials scientists and engineers tested over 250 variations of PET materials and hundreds of other plastic formulations. The result is a prototype that meets several of their quality, safety, and play requirements.
Tim Brooks, VP of environmental responsibility at the Lego Group, says “we are super excited about this breakthrough. The biggest challenge on our sustainability journey is rethinking and innovating new materials that are as durable, strong, and high quality as our existing bricks — and fit with Lego elements made over the past 60 years. With this prototype we’re able to showcase the progress we’re making.”
It will be some time before bricks made from a recycled material appear in Lego product boxes. The team will continue testing and developing the PET formulation and then assess whether to move to the pilot production phase. This next phase of testing is expected to take at least a year.
“We know kids care about the environment and want us to make our products more sustainable,” Brooks says. “Even though it will be a while before they will be able to play with bricks made from recycled plastic, we want to let kids know we’re working on it and bring them along on the journey with us. Experimentation and failing are important parts of learning and innovation. Just as kids build, unbuild and rebuild with Lego bricks at home, we’re doing the same in our lab.”
A 1-liter bottle yields how many Lego bricks?
The prototype is made from recycled PET sourced from suppliers in the US that use US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approved processes to ensure quality. On average, a one-liter plastic PET bottle provides enough raw material for ten 2 x 4 Lego bricks.
The patent-pending material formulation increases the durability of PET to make it strong enough for Lego bricks. The innovative process uses a bespoke compounding technology to combine the recycled PET with strengthening additives.
The recycled prototype brick is the latest development in making the Lego Group’s products more sustainable. In 2020, the company announced it will begin removing single-use plastic from its boxes. In 2018, it began producing elements from bio-polyethylene (bio-PE), made from sustainably sourced sugarcane. Many Lego sets contain elements made from bio-PE, which is perfect for making smaller, softer pieces such as trees, branches, leaves and accessories for minifigures. Bio-PE is not currently suitable for making harder, stronger elements such as the iconic Lego bricks.
“We’re committed to playing our part in building a sustainable future for generations of children,” says Brooks. “We want our products to have a positive impact on the planet, 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 are pleased with the progress we’re making.”
The Lego Group’s focus on sustainable material innovation is just one of several different initiatives the company has in place to make a positive impact. The LEGO Group will invest up to $400 million over three years to 2022 to accelerate its sustainability ambitions.
You can follow the process in the flowchart infographic below:
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