Lego is ditching plans to produce building blocks from recycled PET bottles. The decision was made after years of testing revealed that a switch to recycled PET (rPET) from post-consumer beverage containers would not contribute to the 37 per cent CO2 emissions reduction Lego aims to achieve by 2032. In a recent interview, the company's chief executive, Niels Christiansen, told the "Financial Times" that given the new production equipment that would have been required, the use of rPET would have increased the carbon footprint of the toy bricks. As a result, the Danish company has decided to abandon this project.
Lego's ABS bricks, like most plastics, are made from primary feedstocks derived from crude oil. In June 2021, Lego had presented a prototype recycled PET brick that met the company's quality and safety requirements. The brick consisted of food-grade rPET combined with strengthening additives. However, the company pointed out that continued testing and development would be necessary.
In addition to unresolved issues such as the brick colouring process, which Lego mentioned at the time, other difficulties arose in connection with the use of an alternative material. For instance, PET is softer than ABS, and large amounts of energy were required for processing and drying the rPET bricks, Tim Brooks, head of sustainability for the company, told the Financial Times.
When Lego revealed its rPET prototype in 2021, the price of post-consumer PET bottles was high and availability tight. Food grade regranulate was selling at upwards of €1,500 per tonne, and the emergence of yet another actor, from outside the food packaging industry, interested in purchasing food-grade recycled pellet had caused concern.
While stepping back from the use of PET, Lego says it remains firmly committed to producing bricks from sustainable materials by 2032. The company is currently exploring how to incorporate more recycled and bio-based materials, such as plastics derived from e-methanol. In April of 2023, Lego entered an e-methanol supply agreement with the company European Energy. The Danish company has also been using sugar-cane-based bioplastics (bio-PE) to make some non-brick elements since 2018. At the end of last month, Lego announced that it would invest around €1.3bn in sustainability initiatives by 2025.
Kirkbi, the family-owned holding company and investment firm behind the Lego brand, has also invested in plastics recycling in recent years. Early in 2023, it took a minority stake in German plastics recycler APK along with the Dutch chemicals group Lyondell-Basell. The holding company had also invested in the Norwegian chemical recycling company Quantafuel beginning in 2020. One of Quantafuel's largest shareholders, Kirkbi sold its holding this stake to British waste to energy plant operator Viridor this year. (dpa / EUWID)