We speak to LEGO about new bricks from old bottles

Recently LEGO revealed its prototyping efforts to convert the plastic from old bottles into new bricks.

This endeavour is part of a $400 million (~R5.7 billion) sustainability initiative that has many outlets shifting towards making LEGO products more environmentally friendly.

While still in its early stages the bottle recycling system is showing great promise in creating LEGO that retains its durability and multi-generational quality while being made from what would otherwise be waste.

To go deeper into this process we interviewed Tim Brooks, the Vice President of Environmental Responsibility at the LEGO Group. Outside of the new bricks from bottle prototyping we also discuss some of the general sustainability projects in the works at LEGO.

To avoid repetition we highly recommend this announcement about the bottle recycling which covers its basics. Our interview below will go over topics which were left out of this announcement, so if you want the basics first give that a read.

Hypertext: Would LEGO ever consider some kind of programme where people could collect qualifying bottles for use in recycled bricks? Maybe there could be some kind of loyalty programme towards discounts on sets for large bottle collections.

Brooks: To ensure the material we are using meets our high quality and safety standards, we have strict controls and criteria when it comes to sourcing the PET [Polyethylene terephthalate] material, so we do not collect bottles ourselves or accept collections from members of the public. Currently, the PET bottles are collected from trusted partners that ensure transparency and traceability of the raw material through the whole supply chain.

To produce this prototype, we use material from discarded PET bottles that consumers have chosen to recycle, which are sourced from designated recycling systems. What we would encourage consumers to do is to continue recycling PET materials in the recycling streams available to them.

Hypertext: We understand that the process of turning recycled bottles into bricks is proprietary and in early stages, but how does this process compare to the traditional method of making bricks? Sometimes inefficient recycling programs can be more harmful to the environment when compared to simply starting from scratch.

Brooks: Recycled PET has a significantly lower carbon footprint than virgin ABS [Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene] that we use for many of our LEGO elements at the moment. We know from industry data that there is 70 percent less embedded carbon with recycled PET compared to virgin ABS.

Hypertext: LEGO has stated that it hopes to keep the prices of sets consistent as sustainable elements are produced. On the other side of things do you think customers would be open to a more expensive theme (or subtheme) of sets using mostly pieces made with recycled materials?

Brooks: Keeping pricing consistent for our fans is one of the key criteria we look at when assessing whether a material is suitable for our products – we’d rather ensure as many of our products as possible contain sustainable materials rather than focusing on adjusting one theme only.

Hypertext: Last year LEGO announced it would start replacing the plastic bags inside of boxes with paper ones for easier recycling. How do these paper bags compare to plastic when it comes to long term storage? Many collectors keep sets sealed so there’s a fear that these bags will perish over the years.

Brooks: As we work towards making our packaging more sustainable, we are doing everything we can to develop a solution that satisfies environmental concerns as well as the play experience fans and collectors around the world expect from us. Our design criteria for the bags are that they have the same quality and durability as the boxes.

Hypertext: How does LEGO responsibility make and ship electronics when compared to its plastic components? Many themes such as Mindstorms and Super Mario use electronics for their functions.

Brooks: The LEGO Group complies with the strictest mandatory electronic product regulations. We use the same quality, safety and environmental standards and approaches for electronics as for plastic elements. When developing new products, we follow our ‘design for disassembly’ guidelines to ensure the best possible recycling options at end of life. In addition, all our suppliers and partners must adhere to our Responsible Business Principles, which set out our expectations for our own production sites, suppliers and partners and relate to ethics, people, children and the environment.

Hypertext: When it comes to shipping products from LEGO’s factories to distributors all around the world, what does the company do to reduce the carbon footprint of that logistical chain.

Brooks: As part of our commitment to reduce our emissions in line with the Paris Agreements most ambitious 1,5C trajectory, we are working with our shipping partners to understand how we can reduce emissions from shipping our goods. This includes looking at fuels, and indeed many other parts of our global value chain as we drive towards cutting our absolute carbon emissions by 37 percent in 2032.

Tim Brooks, Vice President of Environmental Responsibility, LEGO Group
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