Namah Chawla

LEGO Group unveils building blocks made from recycled plastic

The new playing blocks are made of polyethylene terephthalate, which is recycled from bottles, and is a step forward in the brand’s sustainability mission.

Remember tripping on, or playing with, plastic building blocks in your childhood? Ever wondered when and where these blocks were first made? Well, these plastic blocks first originated in the workshop of Ole Kirk Christiansen, a toy-maker, in Billund, Denmark in 1932.

Two years later, Christiansen named his company LEGO after the Danish phrase 'leg godt', which means 'play well'. The LEGO Group is a toy production company that is best known for the manufacture of toys, consisting mostly of colourful interlocking plastic bricks. Both kids and adults, all around the world, enjoy the seemingly endless possibilities of a world they can build using LEGO.

In 1949, LEGO produced its first plastic brick, a precursor to its signature brick with interlocking studs on the top and tubes on the bottom. It was patented in 1958 by Christiansen’s son Godtfred Kirk, who replaced his father as the head of the company.

LEGO bricks soon caught on throughout Europe and, in 1968, the first LEGOLAND theme park opened in Billund, with more parks opening up in other international locations later. In 1969, the company started selling the DUPLO line of larger bricks for young children, who had trouble handling the regular LEGO bricks. In 1977, LEGO introduced Minifigures, the typically smiling yellow humanoids that became a regular presence in the company’s themed playsets.

In the 21st century, the LEGO brand spun off into multiple electronic games, including a series of popular Minifigure action-adventure games centred on famed pop culture movies like the Star Wars films, Batman, Marvel Comics superheroes, and Harry Potter books. The LEGO Movie (2014), a hit computer-animated feature film, also revolved around the exploits of Minifigures. One of the fan favourite characters from that film, Batman, was the subject of a stand-alone spin-off The LEGO Batman Movie (2017).

LEGO is on its way to making iconic toy bricks more sustainable. The toy-maker unveiled a prototype brick made entirely of recycled plastic, but it's not yet available in stores.

LEGO announced that its latest design is the first one made from recycled material that has passed strict quality, safety and play requirements, following several iterations that were not durable enough.

The interesting part is that the new prototype is made using polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycled from bottles that have been thrown away and are adding to the waste of the world. According to a statement released by the brand, scientists and engineers tested over 250 variations of PET materials, as well as hundreds of other plastic formulations, before nailing down the latest prototype.

LEGO Group unveils building blocks made from recycled plastic

The plastic is sourced from suppliers in the US, and approved by both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). On average, a one-litre plastic PET bottle yields enough raw material for 10 2x4 LEGO bricks.

However, it will still take some time before the new bricks are mass-produced for consumers and are exported to other countries. The testing phase, which includes further developing the patent-pending PET formulation, is expected to take at least a year.

The brand has been working towards sustainability for years. Last November, the company announced that it would stop using plastic bags inside its boxed sets and replace them with paper ones. This after the brand received letters from kids asking it to decrease its plastic use.