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Lego Looks to Plants as Building Blocks for Bricks

Kalyani.rc 0 Ratings 53 Discussions 1 Group posts

Posted by: Kalyani.rc // Passive House / Sustainability Enthusiast

Lego Looks to Plants as Building Blocks for Bricks

Danish toy maker, seeking to decrease its carbon footprint, considers corn and wheat as an alternative to petroleum-based plastic.

Lego makes billions of bricks a year out of petroleum-based plastic, but it is experimenting with more wholesome ingredients: wheat and corn.

The Danish toy maker, reported a 6% rise in 2016 sales, has been working for two years to reduce its carbon footprint with an alternative to the plastic that has made up its bricks since 1963.

Lego expects the process of finding a better brick to continue for years, possibly up to 2030. The company is focused on finding a new material that comes from plants, recycled material or perhaps a mix of both.

Among the many prototypes, it has developed are ones made from wheat and corn proteins, from which Lego extracts sugars to make a brick. Sugars can be extracted from a range of crops and other materials, including trees and household waste. The prototypes still need work, says Lego’s vice president of sustainability, Tim Brooks, given their tendency to marble on the sides and fit together poorly.

"We are looking for consistent color, shininess, and even that distinctive Lego sound when you mix them together," he said. The new bricks also need to be safe, high-quality and durable, said Mr. Brooks, who plans to hand down to his 3-year-old son a Lego train set that he played with as a child. "A key part of the Lego experience is that it lasts so long," he said. "If your bricks decomposed in 15 years, you wouldn’t get that magic."

Another challenge is finding materials that allow Lego to get the precise tolerances among bricks that it needs, which at two to three microns amount to less than the thickness of a human hair.

Plant-based materials aside, Lego is also considering turning to substances made from chemical recycling—by which a material is broken all the way down to its component chemicals and then built back up again—to eliminate problems with color and quality that occur in ordinary recycling.

While Lego briefly looked at using a material made from unconventional carbon sources such as air and algae, that industry is still in its infancy and therefore a less likely solution.

"Perhaps the biggest challenge for Lego is getting hold of enough plant-based material. Biomaterials companies are reluctant to plow money into plants and machinery without enough guaranteed orders in place, meaning Lego would need to build demand by joining with companies like IKEA, Unilever PLC, Nike Inc. and Danone SA that share its interest in moving to sustainable materials."

While Lego develops its new brick, the company is improving sustainability in other ways. It recently moved its products into smaller boxes, cutting packaging down by 18% and taking about 4,000 trucks off the road each year globally.

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