Saturday, August 29, 2015

LEGO Characteristics and Sustainability


As LUG Ambassador for TBs I got involved into a workgroup to discuss and gather community feedback about sustainability and most relevant LEGO products characteristics in this regard.
Here we're also particularly interested in the feedback from the LEGO Technic community.

This is a wide topic where you may consider many aspects like the raw materials used to produce LEGO bricks, packaging, building instructions, production facilities, energy, delivery chain, social responsibility, etc. And of course many other you'll certainly remember!

To help framing your inputs we got four questions, for which we'd like to hear from you. Please feel free to answer by leaving your comments to this post.

  1. First, please list what consumers can generally expect when a toy product is made of "sustainable materials". Kindly elaborate your answers and provide examples, if possible. The richer descriptions you provide, the more we know excatly what you mean!
    Please rank what is most important (1 = most important etc.
  2. What characteristics of the LEGO experience are currently most important to consumers? For each characteristic, please describe excatly what it is about. The more explanation you provide, the better we understand your input.
    Please rank what is most important (1 = most important etc.)
  3. What characteristics of the LEGO experiences are relevant to consider when addressing "sustainable materials"? Rich descriptions and examples, please.
    Please rank what is most important (1 = most important etc.)
  4. Is there anything else you feel is important regarding Sustainable Materials that wasn't covered in the questions above, that might help get a better view about the topic?

Many thanks in advance!


Ken Solver said...

As long as quality is at least the same, and price same or lower, great to use sustainable materials. Otherwise keep working to delevop a better and cheaper material.

Allanp said...

1. What I would expect is that where possible, all material come from replenish-able sources. In the case of a lego set, if it had "made from sustainable materials" on the box, I would expect the box and instructions to have come from managed sources. As for the plastic pieces, I don't think many would expect the plastic itself to be replenish-able because a petroleum based hydrocarbon is used in it's manufacture. people are also waking up to the eco-friendliness of the manufacturing process. Whilst some products claim to be eco-friendly, like electric cars, people are unsure if the manufacturing process and charging of those batteries aren't actually harming the environment in other ways. So in terms of packaging and instructions, "sustainable resources" is great, in terms of the bricks, it may or may not make a difference, and in the back of my mind it often just means "cheap, nasty, low quality".

2. Lego has a reputation of being a little expensive, but people still buy them, because it also has a reputation for quality. Being a quality product is the number one characteristic. Being mainly a Technic builder, I think they got it right when they said Technic's characteristics are about authenticity (for me that means mechanical authenticity more than aesthetic), complexity and challenging building. Most important for me out of these 3 is mechanical authenticity. The more life like it is, the more I feel like I own a cool miniature replica of the real thing and not just some RC toy that I could buy bigger, better and cheaper from other manufacturers. Getting an 8880 for Christmas felt like the next best thing to getting a real supercar as well as getting a great toy. Same with 42043 Arocs. However, getting the RC volvo 42030 with it's in-authentic mechanisms felt more like getting a just toy.

3. Again, the main issue is maintaining the same level of quality without increasing the cost of a product that is already seen by many as being expensive. Could this be an area where a change to the instruction is needed? Does it really need a whole page of paper to tell you to place 2 little pins? Whilst paper instructions are a necessity to a lego set (lego being one of the few things today that can take kids away from a computer screen) perhaps they can be slimmed down a little bit. 8868 had only 36 steps in it's instructions.

4. Nothing more to add.

Ulf Andersson said...

ABS Plastic can be recycled
with up to 99% purity,according to the Swedish WikiPedia
"Plasten kan även återanvändas med 99 procent renhet"

LEGO is also a product that is inherited and
"handed over" from generations: grandfathers, fathers, uncles etc.
That says very much about sustainable materials.

Quality is expensive. LEGO Technic Sets have been very expensive
since the Millenium. Before the Millenium, the LEGO Technic Sets
were quite affordable.

Daniel Schoch said...

Nothing is sustainable. There are too many people and too little resources. Enjoy LEGO while you can, because they are, too, not sustainable.

Maybe I should ask the question what sustainable really means?
Doable for 5, 10, 100, 500, 1000 years?

Mark Bellis said...

1) A toy product made of "sustainable materials":
Part of the packaging is recycled or grown from sustainable forest (which traps CO2).
Part of the paperwork likewise.
Part of the materials of the product (plastics etc.) is sourced from recycled or renewable resources instead of fossil fuels.
Part of the manufacturing process energy (including recycling processes) is from renewable sources.
Part of the transport means uses renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. Consider LEGO brick miles all the way from chemical plant to consumer.
The whole product lifecycle reduces material and energy use, re-uses materials and recycles materials in that order.

2) and 3) Characteristics of the LEGO experience are currently most important to consumers, and relevant to "sustainable materials":
1. Quality and longevity of plastic materials & other components. Product lasts for ever, infinite re-use, never throw it away, highly sustainable.
2. All pieces present & correct. Less need for customer services, which is a good service but causes work, cost and energy use for TLG. Some recent missing-piece problems should really have been spotted by weight checks.
3. Colour-fastness of the product. Faded bricks have to be hidden or have their use restricted, which is not sustainable. Could TLG provide a "recycle my LEGO" facility, where we send in bricks that are faded or broken so that TLG can recycle the plastic from those parts to make new parts? Ideally this service would also provide replacement parts.
4. The set box makes a tray that can be re-used for many years. Changes to the design of the boxes mean that not so many set boxes can be a tray these days, so the LEGO company has lost some sustainability points! This is important for sets like 42025 Cargo Plane, which have a lap-sized box for sorting. I have some early 42025 sets with tray boxes and some later ones with non-tray boxes. The trend is the wrong way - it should be towards re-usable tray boxes to improve sustainability. Also add arrows to the box paint job, to show how to open the box as a tray. I keep the tray boxes as trays for sorting (sustainable re-use) but can only fold the non-tray boxes (storage or recycling).
5. The plastic bags in the sets are mostly type-4 plastic but tyres, pneumatics, LAs & PF parts use type 5. 1) Why two types of bag material? 2) In the UK only plastic types 1-3 are recycled so types 4 and 5 have to go into non-sustainable landfill. Making bags from plastic types 1-3 would improve sustainability by allowing them to be recycled in more countries.
6. Parts supplied in cardboard, such as wedge belts, string, train wheel axles and minifig capes. The cardboard is too big; why use a big piece for one white belt (set 42020 Fire Plane) when 10 belts would fit? A smaller piece of cardboard might be better. Better still, supply more belts - I am always short of them!
7. Availability of extra special parts needs to improve. When will the new pneumatic parts be available in quantity as spares? The service should be merged with Pick-a-Brick online so that I can order any parts from any sets along with other products; separate = wasteful. As well as individual parts, TLG should provide a 10-pack of special parts such as pneumatic cylinders and a 100-pack of ordinary parts such as bricks and plates. This would put more into one parcel, reduce the packaging use per piece and make it more sustainable. RS and Maplin have 5+, 10+ and 100+ pricing for many items.

4) anything else:
1. Energy use is important as well as sustainability of the materials. Consider the whole life-cycle-cost to the environment.
2. The design of LEGO pieces is important for their reusability and hence their sustainability. The latest Technic panels (e.g. sets 42000, 42025) are great - I use them a lot. Previous ones (before 2009) were not so good - they take up space in a cupboard, which is not so sustainable. Keep the pieces versatile and they will be used more.

Alhasan Hadidi said...

I know this is kind of off topic. But what do you mean when you say Lego Shop@Home?


Fernando Correia said...

@Alhasan Hadidi

I meant the LEGO shop online (
They used to call it Shop@Home in the past, hence the fans sometimes still refer to it by that name. :)

Alhasan Hadidi said...

That's what I thought but I wasn't sure. Thanks. You almost made my day, but instead unboxing my new 5004590 Lego set did. :)

Thanks again,


Kelkschiz said...

1. In my mind sustainable materials are those materials which come from an easily replenished source and also a source and manner of processing which do not harm the environment.

2. The most important characteristic about the LEGO experience is that using LEGO stimulates people to use they imagination and creativity and being creative is a very essential part of being human.

3. In my opinion there is no direct relation between the LEGO experience and sustainable materials.

4. However talking about sustainable materials in connection with LEGO is not complete without mentioning that LEGO is extremely durable. While LEGO is not made from sustainable materials it's durability is such that many of the negative aspects of not coming from sustainable materials is negated. LEGO is not only physically durable it is also timeless. where other plastic toys are usually only enjoyed for a few years, LEGO can easily last 40 years. At the moment I have LEGO that is that old without showing signs of its age.

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