Lego ditches oil-free brick in sustainability setback

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Lego has deserted its highest-profile effort to ditch oil-based plastics from its bricks after discovering that its new materials led to greater carbon emissions, in an indication of the advanced trade-offs firms face in their seek for sustainability.

The world’s largest toymaker introduced two years in the past that it had examined a prototype brick fabricated from recycled plastic bottles somewhat than oil-based ABS, at the moment used in about 80 per cent of the billions of items it makes annually.

However, Niels Christiansen, chief government of the family-owned Danish group, informed the Financial Times that utilizing recycled polyethylene terephthalate (RPET) would have led to greater carbon emissions over the product’s lifetime as it will have required new tools.

Lego has as a substitute determined to attempt to enhance the carbon footprint over time of ABS, which at the moment wants about 2kg of petroleum to make 1kg of plastic.

“In the early days, the belief was that it was easier to find this magic material or this new material” that will resolve the sustainability problem, Christiansen mentioned, however “that doesn’t seem to be there. We tested hundreds and hundreds of materials. It’s just not been possible to find a material like that.”

Lego’s change of techniques highlights the tough choices going through firms on sustainability the place totally different targets akin to eliminating the usage of fossil fuels and lowering carbon emissions can come into battle.

The Danish toymaker initially had a goal of eliminating all petroleum-based plastics in the 20 or so supplies it makes use of in its play units by 2030. It made a rapid begin in 2018 by swapping out oil-based polyethylene for a plant-based model of the identical plastic that it makes use of in about 20 totally different items together with timber and bushes.

It can also be on monitor to get rid of single-use plastic luggage used in packaging its bricks by 2025 with many present units that includes paper containers as a substitute.

But changing ABS, a plastic that makes the bricks sturdy in addition to straightforward to place collectively and pull aside — what the toymaker calls “clutch power” — has proved far more durable.

Tim Brooks, Lego’s head of sustainability, mentioned that by itself RPET was softer than ABS so wanted additional substances to present it related security and sturdiness to the present plastic in addition to giant quantities of vitality to course of and dry it. “It’s like trying to make a bike out of wood rather than steel,” he mentioned.

He added: “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. After all that, the carbon footprint would have been higher. It was disappointing.”

Lego is now aiming to make every constituent a part of ABS — acrylonitrile butadiene styrene — extra sustainable by progressively incorporating extra bio-based and recycled materials.

“It’s not going from being 0 to 100 per cent sustainable from one day to the next, but you start with elements of it being based on either bio materials or recycled materials. Maybe it’s 50 per cent, or 30 per cent, or 70 per cent based on that,” Christiansen mentioned.

But he conceded that it will make issues more durable to speak with shoppers as initially it will be not possible to say the extent to which emissions had been diminished in any particular person set.

Lego’s chief government, nevertheless, insisted that the brand new focus was the proper one and would assist it meet its targets for 2032 of a 37 per cent discount in emissions in contrast with 2019 and of solely utilizing sustainable supplies by then.

The group intends to triple its spending on sustainability to $3bn a yr by 2025, and Christiansen conceded that would damage its revenue margins as it will not move on the upper value of shopping for sustainable supplies to shoppers.

Brooks mentioned that Lego had shifted from having a singular give attention to sustainable supplies to aiming for decrease emissions and probably round supplies that may be recycled and re-used. “RPET is a great example of why we’re not trying to be so dogmatic,” he added.

Another massive push is to allow the billions of bricks sitting in kids’s bedrooms to be reused or recycled into new ones.

Lego has began the Replay programme in the US and Canada — and which is able to come to Europe subsequent yr — in which individuals donate their bricks, that are then sorted and cleaned earlier than going to charities.

Brooks mentioned he hoped Lego would have solutions to easy methods to greatest acquire and kind the bricks in the subsequent two to 3 years earlier than it launched a extra industrial providing the place folks may earn cash from handing again their outdated units, which in flip may very well be reused and packaged as new units.

“It’s better to reuse than recycle. So we’re looking at a circular business model — how do we earn revenue from recircling bricks. It’s quite a shift in thinking and ideas,” he added.

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