Last year, it was reported that Lego was investing $120 million and hiring about 100 people to eliminate its dependence on petroleum-based plastics, and build its toys entirely from plant-based or recycled materials by 2030. The effort has been seven years in the making, “but it keeps hitting brick walls,” as The Wall Street Journal reports. From the report: Lego tried making pieces from corn, but they were too soft. Its wheat-based bricks didn’t absorb color evenly or have the requisite shine. Bricks made from other materials proved too hard to pull apart, broke or had what executives call “creep,” when bricks lose their grip and collapse. Lego has so far tested more than 200 combinations of materials, but just 2% of its products are made from plant-based plastic. The Danish company says it is still exploring several promising options, but finding the material to hit its target is proving difficult. Some materials proved problematic to mold with Lego’s existing machinery. Recycled plastic is an option, but Lego needs large food-grade volumes with guarantees on provenance and quality.
Lego’s slow progress is emblematic of a broader struggle to use plants like corn and sugar cane instead of oil to make plastic, which advocates say would lower greenhouse-gas emissions. Lego has had some success with plastic partly made of plants. So has Coca-Cola, which has sold bottles using 30% plant-based packaging since 2009. But unlike Coca-Cola, when Lego couldn’t find a way to source the remaining 70%, it decided not to go to market. “Ultimately we want a zero-impact product,” said Tim Guy Brooks, Lego’s head of environmental responsibility. For now, there’s always recycling — Lego-style.