We have harped about many a LEGO creation, ranging from classy Porsche 911s to imposing Death Stars. However, beyond their vibrant bearing, there is the environmental side of affairs that might not work well for the LEGO bricks. To that end, LEGO bricks are made from ABS (or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), which is a type of a common thermoplastic polymer. And according to some startling figures, a kg of ABS takes around 2 kg of petroleum during its manufacturing process. When translated to the big picture, around a whopping 120 million bricks are produced every day that amounts to 4,200 to 6,000 tons of LEGO bricks being manufactured every year! Suffice it to say, the environmental implication of such a huge commercial scope is grave. But the good part is – LEGO is looking forth to better ‘green’ alternatives by investing nearly $200 million on the upcoming project.
Now in terms of practicality, ABS is a nigh perfect material if judged from a toymaker’s perspective. For example, by virtue of its nitrile ‘chain-binding’ credentials, the ABS is incredibly sturdy while also showcasing high resistance to both heat and cold. In other words, the material tends to maintain its peak physical attribute even after numerous wear-and-tear scenarios. As a matter of fact, according to one particular test, the conventional LEGO bricks can be used for over 30,000 cycles of clicks.
Considering all these factors, it can be summed up that finding a greener yet effective alternative would not be easy for the manufacturer. They had already dabbled with the biodegradable polylactic acid derived from sources like corn starch and sugar cane; but found the PLA bricks to not have the optimized degree of ‘clicking’ advantage (especially after a few weeks). Furthermore, the company also has to consider how well the new material can adhere to colorful paints and the regular molding technology used in most of LEGO’s fabrication plants.
This is what LEGO Group’s Jørgen Vig Knudstorp had to say in a press release –
There is no common definition of a sustainable material. Several factors influence the environmental sustainability of a material — the composition of the material, how it is sourced and what happens when the product reaches the end of its life. When we search for new materials all of these factors must be considered.
What we announce today is a long-term investment and a dedication to ensuring the continued research and development of new materials that will enable us to continue to deliver great, high quality creative play experiences in the future, while caring for the environment and future generations. It is a daunting and exciting challenge.