Lego Wants to Completely Remake Its Toy Bricks (Without Anyone Noticing)

Lego Wants to Completely Remake Its Toy Bricks (Without Anyone Noticing)
At Lego, petroleum-based plastics aren’t the packaging, they’re the product — and the bricks making up these dinosaurs have barely changed in more than 50 years.CreditCreditCarsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times

At the heart of this town lies a building that is a veritable temple to the area’s most famous creation, the humble Lego brick. It is filled with complex creations, from a 50-foot tree to a collection of multicolored dinosaurs, all of them built with a product that has barely changed in more than 50 years.

A short walk away in its research lab, though, Lego is trying to refashion the product it is best known for: It wants to eliminate its dependence on petroleum-based plastics, and build its toys entirely from plant-based or recycled materials by 2030.

The Lego house, in Billund, Denmark, is a shrine to the town’s most famous product.CreditCarsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times
The challenge is designing blocks that click together yet separate easily, retain bright colors, and survive the rigors of being put through a laundry load or the weight of an unknowing parent’s foot. In essence, the company wants to switch the ingredients, but keep the product exactly the same.

Consumers worldwide have voiced growing alarm about the impact of plastic waste on the environment, and increasing numbers of companies are trying to use packaging materials that are recyclable or otherwise less polluting. Coca-Cola, for instance, plans to collect and recycle the equivalent of all the bottles and cans it uses by 2030. Unilever, the consumer goods giant, says all its plastic packaging will be recyclable or compostable by 2025. Others, like McDonald’s and Starbucks, are doing away with plastic straws in their outlets.

The molding machines at Lego’s factory turn out about 100 million “elements” — bricks, trees, doll parts — each day.CreditCarsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times
With so many large businesses changing their practices, recycling will “become the norm,” said David Blanchard, Unilever’s head of research and development.

The toymaker’s highly automated manufacturing facility here in Billund is a picture of clockwork. At a mammoth factory more than 500 yards long, machines arranged in rows melt plastic pellets into a molten paste and press them into molds. A few seconds later, a batch of colored bricks pops out and is deposited into driverless carts, taken to be stored for shipment. Each day, the facility churns out about 100 million “elements,” the term Lego uses for the bricks, trees and doll parts it sells.

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