The LEGO® Group aims to be an environmentally responsible organization. In recent years, they have made some pretty big changes in order to reduce their carbon footprint and reliance on single use plastics. We’ve seen polyethylene produced from sugarcane instead of fossil fuels in softer elements, like plants. Additionally, the LEGO® Group started slowly phasing out plastic bags in their sets. And, in a less popular move among AFOLs, the toy company abandoned blind bags in the Collectible Minifigures Series in favor of recyclable cardboard boxes. Two years ago, LEGO® even announced a prototype brick produced from recycled plastic bottles. They made a pretty big deal about the announcement. Sadly, the idea of Bricks from Bottles was abandoned recently.
I’ll admit, I was wholeheartedly behind the idea of the prototype recycled polyethylene terephthalate (RPET) brick. It made me feel good that my favorite toy company was ambitiously chasing a more sustainable product. However, I was a little skeptical they could pull it off, though I didn’t voice it at the time. I wanted to believe the future of the LEGO® brick was here. But a little voice at the back of my mind said the announcement was premature. As it turns out, that little voice was correct. And you can bet the LEGO® Group is not being as loud about this development. There are no bells, whistles, or press releases… but, they did comment to the Financial Times.
Recycling plastic has a high carbon footprint
As it turns out, the carbon footprint of producing bricks from bottles is actually higher than producing a regular brick using fossil fuels. Though the LEGO® Group did not mention it when they first touted the RPET brick, recycled plastic is not the same as virgin plastic. In order to reach the strength and rigidity of a standard brick, the recycled plastic needs additional chemicals to fortify it. Following that, there’s huge amounts of energy to process and dry the product. Not to mention, technology required to produce RPET bricks is completely different from production of ABS bricks. Every factory around the world would need a complete overhaul.
Sadly, I am not surprised by this reversal. People often think recycling is the solution to the world’s waste problems. However, they forget that the saying is actually “Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle”. Recycling is actually the LAST step in that process, and also the LAST resort. It is reducing and reusing that are more important to lessening your carbon footprint. Recycling is an intensive process that requires transport, processing, and energy, which all consume resources and produce emissions. There’s no doubt, recycling is better than throwing something out. Additionally, recycling is better for the environment that using raw materials. But its also not the golden ticket to saving the planet.
The LEGO® Group sings a new song
So what’s next for LEGO®? According to the Financial Times, a new brick is not the way to go. Instead, the LEGO® Group will gradually incorporate more biologically based and recycled material into their existing ABS formula. It’s a drastic change in direction and a pretty big flop. However, bumps in the road and detours are normal for processes like this. Personally, I think the LEGO® Group should have blown all the bells and whistles about this idea’s failure just as they did for its conception. As a society, we’re so opposed to failure. We want to have it right the first time. But that’s not reality. Failure is more important to learning than success.
The LEGO® Group tried and failed. However, they still invested loads of resources to see if something could work. Now, the rest of the world knows it doesn’t, and people can continue innovating in other directions. It’s an important lesson for us all on the road to sustainability. What do you think? Let me know in the comments or reach out on social media.
Until next time,
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.Thomas Edison
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