Lego has stopped a project to make bricks from recycled drinks bottles instead of oil-based plastic, saying it would have led to higher carbon emissions over the product’s lifetime.
The move, first reported by the Financial Times, followed efforts by the world’s largest toymaker to research more sustainable materials, as part of a wave of companies reassessing their contribution to global emissions as the climate crisis hits.
The Danish company makes billions of Lego pieces a year, and in 2021 began researching a potential transition to recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), which needs about 2kg of petroleum to make 1kg of plastic. ABS is used in about 80% of Lego blocks.
“It’s like trying to make a bike out of wood rather than steel,” said Tim Brooks, Lego’s head of sustainability, referring to how the non-oil-based material was softer and demanded extra ingredients for durability, as well as greater energy for processing and drying.
The “level of disruption to the manufacturing environment was such that we needed to change everything in our factories” to scale up recycled PET use, he said. “After all that, the carbon footprint would have been higher. It was disappointing.”
The company said in 2021 it had more than 150 people working on sustainability. But Lego’s chief executive, Niels Christiansen, told the FT the toymaker “tested hundreds and hundreds of materials” but could not find a “magic material” to solve sustainability issues.
Instead, Lego aims to make each part of ABS more sustainable by incorporating more bio-based and recycled material. Christiansen said the group will triple spending on sustainability to $3bn (£2.45bn) a year by 2025 while promising not to pass on higher costs to consumers.