There may be a global revolt against plastic, but Danish toymaker Lego, famous for its multi-coloured plastic building bricks, remains a raging success, even if it, too, aims to go green.
Once revolutionary, then a ubiquitous material, plastic is increasingly being shunned due to the lasting harm its chemical components do to the planet.
As a result, Lego has vowed that its iconic bricks will be 100 per cent sustainable by 2030.
With pieces that are virtually unbreakable and reusable for generations, Lego – whose name is a contraction in Danish for “Leg Godt” or “Play Well” – has always had sustainability as a leitmotiv, Tim Brooks, head of corporate responsibility, told AFP.
Now, the company just has to adapt to environmental and consumer demands.
A study by the NPD market research group showed that 47 per cent of Christmas shoppers worldwide chose not to buy a toy due to sustainability concerns.
“Toy manufacturers are really embracing this topic, there’s a lot of innovation in both packaging and material for toys,” Frederique Tutt, a toy industry expert at NPD, said.
Lego, based in the western Danish town of Billund, has no plans to abandon plastic. Rather, it aims to improve on the materials it uses.
Currently, most of its pieces are made of acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS), a petroleum-based substance also used to make household appliances.
“We want to use plastic in a responsible way, and particularly where it is in a high quality, durable and reusable application. And that’s what Lego bricks are,” said Brooks.
For now, two per cent of its plastic pieces, or 80 of the around 3,600 construction pieces, are made of a biosourced material, a sugarcane-based polyethylene.
These pieces are mostly trees, leaves and bushes in the kits, which do not have to meet the same durability requirements as bricks, which have to stick together tightly.
It is a technical challenge, as Lego wants to ensure that customers do not notice any difference between the old plastic and any new materials.
New pieces must have the same physical properties as the old ones: strength, colour fastness and sticking power, in order to remain compatible with older pieces.
Over the years, the Danish company has evolved from simple brick kits to complex designs, such as its Harry Potter or architecture themed kits, and has made a strong foray into video games, apps, movies, cartoons and amusement parks. That diversification has previously helped the group recover from its financial woes.