In pursuit of eliminating plastics based on virgin petroleum, Lego introduced its ‘greener’ prototype brick in 2021, formed from recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) sourced from discarded plastic bottles. But two years later, the company found that rPET is a softer material, necessitating added ingredients and extra curing to make the classic construction bricks appropriately durable.
This extra intervention – and the infrastructural changes to factories to allow production – has resulted in higher greenhouse gas emissions than the methods used for working with the original Lego brick material, ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene).
While a blow to idealistic sustainability advancements, Lego should be commended for its transparency surrounding the difficulty in becoming more eco-friendly. The company asserts that it’s still committed to making its production cycle more sustainable, and will instead focus on limiting emissions from its use of ABS. It’s also investigating alternative recycled and plant-based material solutions. Currently, around 2kg of petroleum is needed to make just 1kg of plastic.
In its latest announcement, Lego has committed to tripling its current sustainability R&D budget to $1.4bn by 2025, and aspires to reduce emissions by 37% by 2032, with the aim of becoming net zero by 2050.
Lego’s Replay platform, which allows consumers to donate their old bricks to be cleaned and donated to children in need, is being expanded from the US and Canada into Europe in 2024. The initiative could act as a trial run for a circular consumption model for Lego; rather than using recycled materials to make new bricks, Lego could simply reuse unwanted toys.