Updated Sep 25, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Lego scraps efforts to make bricks from recycled bottles

Niels B. Christiansen, CEO of Lego presents the annual results of the Danish toy company during a news conference at Lego headquarters in Billund, Denmark on February 27, 2019.

Lego CEO Niels Christiansen in Billund, Denmark, in 2019. Photo: Michael Drost-Hansen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images

Lego has halted efforts to make building bricks from recycled plastic instead of oil-based plastics, the Danish toymaker announced Sunday.

Yes, but: A Lego spokesperson said in an emailed statement Monday that the family-owned company was not abandoning its effort to make oil-free bricks. "On the contrary, we remain fully committed to making LEGO bricks from sustainable materials by 2032," he said.

The big picture: Lego pledged in June 2021 to begin selling prototype bricks from recycled plastic within two years, but Lego CEO Niels Christiansen told the Financial Times Sunday they'd since learned that using recycled PET plastic would have led to higher carbon emissions.

  • "We tested hundreds and hundreds of materials," he said. "It's just not been possible to find a material like that."
  • The Lego spokesperson noted to Axios that recycled PET was "one of hundreds of different sustainable materials we've tested."

Zoom in: Tim Brooks, Lego's head of sustainability, said in a statement to media that the carbon footprint would have been higher because the "level of disruption to the manufacturing environment was such that we [would have] needed to change everything in our factories."

By the numbers: The BBC reports that about 80% of the 110 billion to 120 billion plastic pieces Lego makes per year contains acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), a type of plastic made from crude oil.

Zoom out: Since most plastics come from fossil fuels, Axios' Andrew Freedman notes our plastics dependency is exacerbating climate change.

  • "In 2019, plastics generated 1.8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – 3.4% of global emissions — with 90% of these emissions coming from their production and conversion from fossil fuels," per the OECD.
  • "By 2060, emissions from the plastics lifecycle are set to more than double, reaching 4.3 billion tonnes of GHG emissions."

What we're watching: Lego intends to make ABS more sustainable by "incorporating more bio-based and recycled material'" to help meet its goal of a 37% cut in emissions by 2032, compared with 2019, per the FT.

  • "We are investing more than $1.2 billion in sustainability initiatives in the four years to 2025 as part of our efforts to transition to more sustainable materials and reduce our carbon emissions by 37% by 2032," the Lego spokesperson told Axios.
  • The company also plans to expand to more countries its Replay Lego bricks program, which involves donated bricks being cleaned and shipped to children's nonprofits.

Go deeper: Kids offer up Lego-like climate instructions to world leaders

Editor's note: This article has been updated with further comment from Lego's Tim Brooks as well as a company spokesperson and more context.

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