Light Wave


Lego shuts vaunted recycling scheme. Won’t save planet after all

By CM Chaney · September 26, 2023

In brief…

  • Lego tested making bricks from recycled plastic bottles for two years, but found it didn't reduce overall CO2 emissions.
  • Roughly 80% of the more than 60 billion Lego bricks produced annually are made from ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic.
  • ABS typically requires 4.4 pounds of oil to produce 2.2 pounds of plastic.
  • Lego remains committed to sustainability despite the setback, hoping to be carbon neutral by 2032.
After testing recycled plastic bottles for two years, Lego has scrapped plans to use them in brick production, finding they don't cut carbon emissions.  Arto Alanenpää/Wikimedia

Lego has scrapped plans to produce its iconic building blocks from recycled plastic bottles after determining the effort would not actually cut the company’s carbon emissions.

For the past two years, Danish toy giant Lego has been testing a prototype made from recycled PET plastic in hopes of moving away from the oil-based plastic from which its bricks have historically been produced. The company now says the recycled material “didn’t reduce carbon emissions,” so it will not be adopting it for mass production.

“We have decided not to progress making bricks from recycled PET after more than two years of testing as we found the material didn’t reduce carbon emissions,” a Lego spokesperson told The New York Post.

Approximately 80% of the more than 60 billion Lego bricks produced annually are made from ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), a petroleum-based plastic commonly used in computer keyboards and car interiors.

Producing ABS generates significant carbon emissions. On average, 4.4 pounds of oil are needed to make 2.2 pounds of plastic.

Lego had hoped switching to recycled PET from discarded plastic bottles would reduce its environmental footprint. After two years of testing, the company found that adopting the new material would require too much new production equipment and ultimately fail to lower Lego’s total CO2 output.

The decision thwarts years of work by Lego’s team of more than 150 employees dedicated to making recycled PET plastic bricks. Even so, the company says it remains committed to finding ways to reduce its environmental impact amid growing scrutiny of sustainability practices of corporations worldwide.

Lego says it will explore other eco-friendly strategies, such as using methanol produced from renewable energy. The company calls PET just “one of hundreds of different sustainable materials” it is considering.

Lego has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2032, committing to spend $1.2 billion over four years towards sustainability initiatives. It recently invested more than $2 billion in new carbon-neutral factories in Virginia and Vietnam. The company also conducts a program enabling customers to donate used Lego bricks that are then cleaned and donated to children.