LEGO: Sustainable Sugar Cane Bricks

The famous toy manufacturer, LEGO, is helping in the global fight against plastic pollution by producing sustainable bricks made from sugar cane. The majority of their products have traditionally been plastic-based, but in future, they are aiming to make them more eco-friendly.

LEGO is one of the world's most successful toy companies. Launched in Denmark in 1932, by carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen, after he lost his job during the Great Depression, he based his idea on building interlocking bricks - a simple toy that children of all ages would enjoy.

Lego

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The early bricks were used to build miniature walls, houses and other simple items, as they were all of a standard size. Over the years, bricks of different sizes have been manufactured, so children can be more creative and build all kinds of things.

In the 1950s, LEGO began making cars and a whole range of other vehicles, and the first mini figures were produced in 1978.

Plant-based bricks

Amid increasing concerns about plastic pollution affecting our oceans and killing marine life, LEGO has joined the international drive to protect our planet. Its latest tree-house set has replaced the plastic pieces with plant-based bricks to create the greenery.

The company has been using sustainable plastic made with ethanol from sugarcane for the past year. Initially, only a small percentage of the company's total bricks are being made in this way, but it has been seen as a major step towards sustainability. A number of sets have included the sugarcane bricks, but the tree-house kit is its most ambitious to date, as all 185 pieces are made from the new, sustainable material.

In other LEGO sets, the tree, bush and leaf elements are being made from the plant-based polyethylene. On average, 6% of the bricks in a LEGO set are being made from the new material. However, LEGO is continuing to replace plastic bricks with eco-friendly alternatives and by 2020, it hopes to be manufacturing 100% sustainable bricks.

The idea for the new-style bricks came from the LEGO Ideas programme - people can submit their own suggestions for new products. French enthusiast Kevin Feeser, of Nancy, created the initial design for the tree-house set. More than 10,000 fellow fans pledged their support and this propelled the idea into reality.

It became a certified LEGO retail kit, with a super-large 14-inch tall tree-house. There are two versions - one for summer and one for autumn. The summer version features a canopy of green leaves, while the autumn one has brown and yellow leaves. The set went on sale on 1st August.

How are sugarcane bricks made?

Sugarcane plastic is made in the same way as traditional plastic. However, the polyethylene is produced using the ethanol extracted from sugarcane, instead of using the regular chemicals extracted from oil.

Usually, LEGO toys are made from a fossil fuel-based plastic called acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, commonly known as ABS. It was no mean feat replacing it with a plant-based alternative and a lot of research went into finding the right mix.

To make 1kg of ABS plastic, it takes 2kg of petroleum. The material isn't collected in many household recycling centres, although it can be recycled. The new plant-based material has a significantly lower carbon footprint than regular plastic.

Pros and cons

Despite LEGO's efforts to make a sustainable material, critics of the initiative say producing enough sugar cane to make millions of bricks will damage the environment in its own way.

Although fossil fuels aren't used to make sugarcane plastic, additional farming to produce the cane will use up a lot of resources. Although the plastic made this way is recyclable, it still isn't biodegradable, so if it gets into the environment, it will break up into minute pieces.

Although LEGO is taking a step in the right direction, it's unlikely that all of the other plastics manufacturers will follow suit, so this isn't yet a fool proof solution to the planet's pollution crisis.

Solent Plastics follows an environmental ethic, promoting recycling and the responsible use of plastic products. We stock ECO recycled plastic containers made from recycled polypropylene.

We also stock recycling waste bins to help businesses, schools and other organisations with their recycling initiatives. All of our products will last for years and we don't sell single-use plastics.