Sustainable Play? LEGO’s Health and Environmental Impacts

No one would deny that LEGOs are fun for kids. The little plastic bricks that snap together to make cars, buildings, and ever robots have been a global pop culture phenomenon since they were created by Ole Kirk Christiansen in 1949. But do they meet the high standards of parents who want to protect their children from toxins?

What Are LEGOs Made Of?

LEGOs were originally made from cellulose acetate, a plastic that is still common today in the manufacturing of buttons, sunglasses, and award ribbons. However, this design was flawed: the famed locking ability wore off with use, and the bricks themselves were not durable. Gotfred Kirk Christiansen, son of the original creator, made a new design for the brick in 1958. Five years later, a new material was found: ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) polymer.

Criticized from the Start

LEGO was criticized for its adherence to plastic long before environmental concerns made themselves apparent. A Danish newspaper called Legetøjs-Tidende attacked them for thinking children’s toys made from plastic would ever become more popular than the wooden toys of the time. However, LEGO has always made themselves a standard for the industry, and nowhere is that more apparent than in their uncompromising corporate motto: “The best is never too good.” Still, are plastics the best choice for your kids?

Is This Safe For My Children?

Consider this: how often have you seen your kids stick a couple of joined bricks in their mouths, using their teeth to separate them?  Are there health risks involved in playing with those ABS bricks? 

ABS polymer is classified as “low-hazard material,” meaning it presents few health risks. Unless they’re heated or soaked in alcohol, they’re unlikely to be a health risk for children. Still, ABS is a plastic, made from petroleum, and this presents new concerns. One of the biggest is its leaching into the environment. Just in the year 2014, Lego reported that it produced more than 60 billion Lego pieces. To make that many bricks required 77,000 metric tons of petroleum. If that isn’t bad enough, think about all the discarded little bricks making their way into landfills.

So What is LEGO Doing About This?

LEGO has made a series of changes in their business model to allow for green policies. The company recently reduced the size of their packaging, and have committed to being fully powered by renewable energy by 2020. Further, in 2012, LEGO donated over 40 million EU to construct an offshore wind farm that will be industrious enough to power 100,000 U.S. residential houses when completed.

But all of these announcements did little to solve LEGO's issue of using an unsustainable material to build their toys. That is why, on June 16, 2015, LEGO announced they would be donating 1 billion DKK (over $147,000,000 in U.S. Dollars) to fund a search for a new material to make LEGO bricks.

How Will It Work?

The donation will be used to create the LEGO Sustainable Materials Centre, based at LEGO’s headquarters in Billund, Denmark. In addition, LEGO says it plans to hire more than 100 scientists to help in the search for a new material. The current projection estimates a new material could be discovered by 2030. Any discovery made would eventually be shared with other manufacturers, benefiting the industry as a whole. Does that put your mind at ease?

Do you feel that toy manufacturers should adhere to stricter regulations when it comes to your kid’s health and environmental safety?  What is your view on plastic toys – something to eradicate, a necessary evil, or a godsend?

Cover image: simone mescolini /

Tags : games   toys   green toys   nature   environment   lego   

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