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Lego Wants to Make Recycled Bricks, But Efforts Keep Failing

The world’s largest toy maker has announced it will abandon a previously set sustainability initiative to use recycled materials in its products…because the process would lead to more pollution.

After two years of experimenting with recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) as an eco-friendly alternative to the acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), Lego has decided to scrap its initiative to manufacture toy bricks from recycled plastic bottles, after discovering the shift would lead to increased carbon emissions, as first reported by the Financial Times on Sunday.

Lego had invested over $1.2 billion as part of the initiative, according to The AP.

The company’s intended eco-friendly mission focused on recycled plastic bottles, with a discovery that a one-liter PET bottle could generate approximately 10 of its 2×4-stud bricks. The bricks underwent rigorous testing for quality, durability, and “clutch power” (Lego’s term for a brick’s ability to securely attach to others), per The Wall Street Journal.

However, Lego the decision to halt the initiative hinges on the discovery that scaling up production would not reduce the company’s carbon emissions, but conversely increase them as the additional production steps and new equipment required would result in expelling more energy.

The toymaker has been trying to replace its petroleum-based bricks with more environmentally friendly materials for years. There have been several previous attempts over the last decade involving experimenting with corn-based materials (resulting in bricks that were too soft) and wheat-based materials (which did not meet visual standards). Efforts with various other materials yielded bricks that were either excessively rigid or lost their interlocking ability.

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“In order to scale production [of recycled PET], the level of disruption to the manufacturing environment was such that we needed to change everything in our factories,” Tim Brooks, head of sustainability at Lego, told the FT. “After all that, the carbon footprint would have been higher. It was disappointing.”

Miniature Manhattan made from Legos. Mark E. Gibson | Getty Images.

Despite the recent setback, Lego has made it clear that it’s not the end of its efforts.

“We remain fully committed to making Lego bricks from sustainable materials by 2032,” a Lego spokesperson told The WSJ. “Recycled PET is one of hundreds of different sustainable materials we’ve tested.”

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