Lego A/S is showing its first prototype molded bricks made using recycled PET, building on a 2015 pledge to invest more sustainable plastics for its traditional ABS material.
At this point, the white bricks shown in a news release still need additional testing to ensure they can withstand hours of play and snap into existing bricks, the company said. They also must be able to be dropped into existing injection molding tools and presses within Lego's existing manufacturing footprint.
The PET in the prototypes is from reclaimed water bottles, with a 1-liter plastic bottle providing enough raw materials for 10 2-by-4 Lego bricks.
"We are super excited about this breakthrough. The biggest challenge on our sustainability journey is rethinking and innovating new materials that are as durable, strong and high quality as our existing bricks — and fit with Lego elements made over the past 60 years. With this prototype, we're able to showcase the progress we're making," Tim Brooks, vice president of environmental responsibility at Billund, Denmark-based Lego, said in the release.
Lego says it will spend an estimated $400 million and has a team of 150 people to find a more sustainable material for Lego products. In the past three years, the company has tested more than 250 variations of PET and other plastics.
In 2018, Lego began producing elements from bio-based polyethylene, made from sugarcane. Many Legos now use that PE for smaller, softer pieces such as trees, branches and accessories for its minifigures. But Lego said that bio-based material is not suitable for harder, stronger elements, including its bricks.
Lego noted that it will be "some time" before it begins selling bricks from a recycled material.
"The team will continue testing and developing the PET formulation and then assess whether to move to the pilot production phase," the company said. "This next phase of testing is expected to take at least a year."
"We know kids care about the environment and want us to make our products more sustainable. Even though it will be awhile before they will be able to play with bricks made from recycled plastic, we want to let kids know we're working on it and bring them along on the journey with us," Brooks said. "Experimentation and failing is an important part of learning and innovation. Just as kids build, unbuild and rebuild with Lego bricks at home, we're doing the same in our lab."