LEGO unveils prototype brick made from recycled plastic in ‘first step on long journey’

A prototype LEGO brick made from recycled plastic has become the latest advance made by the Danish toy maker in its ongoing journey towards better sustainability and its ‘ambitious goal’ of becoming 100 per cent sustainable by 2030.

It’s taken a team of more than 150 engineers three years to work on sustainable solutions for LEGO products and test 250 variations of PET materials and hundreds of other plastic formulations. The result is a new prototype, which uses PET plastic from discarded bottles, and the first solution to meet the firm’s strict quality and safety requirements.

Materials testing spanned a spectrum of prototypes, from bricks that didn’t clutch sufficiently, to some that wouldn’t separate throughout what The LEGO Group’s vice president of environmental responsibility, Tim Brooks, has billed ‘as the biggest challenge in the company’s sustainability journey.’

“We are super excited about this breakthrough,” said Brooks in a press release. “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 are able to showcase the progress we’re making.”

It will however, be some time before bricks made from a recycled material appear in LEGO products on shelf and in-store, LEGO has admitted. A further testing and development of the PET formulation phase is expected to take at least another year, before the company can assess whether to move to pilot production.

“Experimentation and failing is an important part of learning and innovation. Just as kids build, unbuild and rebuild with LEGO bricks at home, we’re doing the same in our lab,” said Brooks.

At a LEGO Fan Media roundtable interview this week, Brooks revealed that despite the unveiling of the first recycled LEGO brick, Brooks acknowledged the ‘big, big challenges’ still faced by the company in reaching its ‘ambitious target’ of achieving 100 per cent sustainability by 2030.

Speaking to Brick Fanatics, he said: “For the safety, the quality, the colur, the durability, the shininess – and it’s the same we see on the packaging as well, getting paper bags to perform in a strong way and not be punctured and all the rest of it. They’re all big, big challenges.

“I can’t say whether we’ll make it or not. I can definitely say it’s our aim to make it, and we’re putting as much effort as we can behind it. We’ve put significant resources behind it, both financially and people.”

Efforts and resources include a $400 million investment over three years into finding new, sustainable materials to replace traditional ABS. The announcement this week of the first prototype LEGO brick made from recycled plastic bottles is the first step on that journey.

The prototype is made from recycled PET sourced from suppliers in the United States that use US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approved processes to ensure quality. On average, a one-litre plastic PET bottle provides enough raw material for ten 2 x 4 LEGO bricks.

In 2018, LEGO began producing elements from bio-polyethylene (bio-PE), made from sustainably sourced sugarcane. Many LEGO sets contain elements made from bio-PE, ideal 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 LEGO bricks.

“We’re committed to playing our part in building a sustainable future for generations of children,” continued 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.”