Are LEGOs Bad for the Environment

Are LEGOs Bad for the Environment?

Last Updated on August 27, 2023 by Krystine

With their popularity among children and adult hobbyists alike, LEGO bricks are found in millions of households worldwide.

But given that they’re made of plastic, many wonder about the environmental impacts of producing, using, and disposing of the colorful bricks.

This article takes an in-depth look at whether LEGOs are truly bad for the environment.

Are LEGOs Bad for the Environment?

Image Credit: NYTimes

While not optimal, LEGO bricks are not terrible for the environment either.

The petroleum-based plastic contributes substantially to waste and has limitations around recycling and biodegradability.

However, LEGO is actively working to reduce its environmental footprint through sustainable materials, manufacturing practices, and packaging.

With continued innovation and investment, LEGO can become an environmentally responsible toy.

Key Points

  • ABS plastic used in bricks is not readily recyclable and takes centuries to decompose
  • Manufacturing processes require significant energy and resources
  • The company aims for sustainability with some bio-based elements and carbon neutrality
  • Alternatives exist but can’t match LEGO’s quality, safety, and play potential
  • With clever solutions, LEGO can reduce waste while retaining fun and creativity

How much plastic waste do LEGO bricks generate?

As a toy made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic, LEGO does contribute substantially to global plastic waste and pollution.

Over 100 billion LEGO elements have been produced since 1958.

Bricks disposed of improperly can end up in landfills and even the ocean.

Recent cleanups found LEGO pieces made up about 4% of plastic marine debris.

Proper recycling is key to reducing LEGO’s plastic footprint.

Do LEGO bricks biodegrade or decompose?

LEGO made out of recycled material
Image Credit: Kids Activities Blog

Like most plastics, LEGO bricks do not readily biodegrade.

Exact estimates vary, but LEGO pieces are thought to decompose over a timeframe of 100 to 1300 years depending on environmental conditions.

The bricks break down into tinier and tinier fragments over time, potentially releasing chemicals.

So while LEGOs will eventually decompose, it takes centuries, leaving eco-impacts along the way.

How does LEGO brick production impact the environment?

Producing the raw ABS plastic for billions of LEGO bricks requires substantial energy and natural resources.

Petroleum and natural gas are used to manufacture ABS.

The company’s manufacturing facilities use energy for molding and shaping elements.

However, LEGO has worked to make factories more energy efficient and offset carbon emissions.

Still, the mass production of plastic toys inevitably has environmental costs.

Approximately 75% of LEGO bricks’ lifetime carbon footprint stems from raw material production.

Can you recycle old or used LEGO bricks?

Recycling LEGO bricks helps reduce plastic waste, but it can be challenging.

LEGO elements are made of ABS, which isn’t accepted for recycling in many programs.

Specialty services exist to separate and recycle bulk LEGO materials.

But for individuals, reuse or donation of unneeded bricks is better than recycling.

LEGO also provides reusable packaging to consumers.

The company aims for sustainability, but more progress is still needed with recyclability and recycled content.

How sustainable are plant-based LEGO bricks?

In 2018, LEGO began experimenting with plant-based polyethylene elements made from sugarcane.

While bio-based, these plant bricks are still not biodegradable.

However, producing them emits around 10X less carbon dioxide compared to traditional ABS bricks.

These sustainable elements currently make up 1-2% of LEGO bricks, but the company aims to expand their usage.

Critics worry wider adoption could encourage more resource-intensive monoculture farming.

How does LEGO aim to reduce its environmental impact?

LEGO is working to minimize its environmental footprint and achieve carbon-neutral operations.

Its sustainability initiatives include finding recycled and bio-based materials to replace ABS, reducing packaging waste, and balancing 100% of carbon emissions from production.

LEGO factories now use renewable energy.

The company also partners with environmental groups like the World Wildlife Fund.

While LEGO still relies heavily on plastic, they are embracing greater transparency and accountability around sustainability.

How could biodegradable LEGO bricks become a reality?

A team of chemistry students in Canada created an innovative biomaterial that could enable biodegradable LEGOs.

Their composite used wood fibers and a bioplastic polylactic acid to mimic the durability and clutch power of ABS plastic.

With further development, this plant-based material could provide a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based ABS.

LEGO is also researching using recycled bottles and bio-polyethylene from sugarcane in future bricks.

Should petroleum-based ABS plastic be banned in toys?

Some environmentalists argue ABS and other forms of plastic should be banned for use in children’s toys given their contributions to pollution and climate change.

However, finding affordable, safe alternatives that meet performance needs is challenging.

Plastic also provides durability and allows for intricate designs.

The focus could instead be on recycled content mandates, safer additives, reduced packaging, and improved recycling.

An outright ban may not be realistic currently.

What are alternatives to LEGO bricks for kids?

Some eco-friendly alternatives to LEGO bricks made from safer, sustainable materials include BioBuddi tiles made from hevea tree rubber, Magna-Tiles made from ABS plastic and recycled milk bottles, and Flower Soft Pegs made from cornstarch.

Wooden blocks are also a classic plastic-free choice.

These options show innovation is possible, though small brands struggle to achieve the economies of scale LEGO enjoys.

Most lack the intricate designs and play potential of LEGO.

Is LEGO Going To Be Sustainable?

LEGO is working to improve the sustainability of its products and business practices.

The company has pledged to make all its packaging 100% sustainable by 2025.

LEGO is also researching plant-based bricks as a renewable alternative to petroleum-based ABS plastic.

These bio-polyethylene elements currently make up 1-2% of LEGO bricks.

The goal is to expand the usage of sustainable materials.

LEGO has partnered with organizations like the World Wildlife Fund to reduce carbon emissions and leave a lighter environmental footprint.

Its manufacturing facilities now run on renewable energy.

While LEGO relies heavily on plastic currently, they aim to find recycled or bio-based substitutes.

The company is being more transparent about its sustainability challenges and seeking accountability.

Significant progress has been made, though LEGO still has work to do to achieve comprehensive environmental responsibility.

Why Is LEGO Not Recyclable?

LEGO bricks are challenging to recycle for a few reasons.

They are made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic.

Many municipal recycling programs do not accept ABS, so it ends up in landfills.

LEGO elements also use colorants, stabilizers, and other additives that hinder separation at recycling facilities.

Their small size makes sorting difficult.

Specialty services can separate and recycle bulk LEGOs, but this is not readily accessible to most consumers.

LEGO is working to improve recyclability by simplifying material composition and marking elements for easier sorting.

Most LEGO pieces, especially older ones, were not designed with recyclability in mind.

Improved sustainability practices aim to change that.

But currently, LEGO bricks remain hard to recycle.

Are Legos Now Biodegradable?

Most LEGO bricks are not yet biodegradable.

They are predominantly made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic, which takes 100 to 1,300 years to decompose.

However, LEGO has introduced some plant-based polyethylene elements made from sugarcane.

While renewable, these bio-polyethylene bricks are not certified biodegradable or compostable.

They make up just 1-2% of LEGO bricks currently.

The company continues innovating with natural materials to expand sustainable options.

But the majority of LEGO bricks remain non-biodegradable petroleum-based plastic for now.

More progress is still needed.

Is LEGO Going To Stop Using Plastic?

It is unlikely LEGO will stop using plastic entirely.

Plastics like ABS offer durability, consistency, design flexibility, and affordability that alternatives have difficulty matching currently.

However, LEGO is actively trying to reduce its plastic waste and environmental footprint.

The company is increasing its use of plant-based and recycled materials.

These efforts include bio-polyethylene from sugarcane and recycled PET bottles.

LEGO aims to make all packaging sustainable by 2025.

So while LEGO will probably not eliminate plastic, they are innovating to reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic in more responsible ways.

The focus is on improved sustainability.

Key Takeaways:

  • LEGO bricks are not optimally eco-friendly currently due to their plastic composition.
  • However, the company is working to reduce its environmental impact through sustainable materials, packaging, and manufacturing practices.
  • With some ingenuity and investment, LEGO has opportunities to become both fun and planet-friendly.


How long do LEGO bricks take to decompose?

Depending on environmental conditions, LEGO bricks can take anywhere from 100 to 1,300 years to fully decompose. The plastic breaks down into tiny fragments over long time periods, slowly leaching chemicals. Proper disposal is key.

What percent of LEGO bricks are now plant-based?

Currently, only 1-2% of LEGO elements are made from plant-based polyethylene. The company aims to expand its use of sustainably sourced bio-bricks and recycled materials in future Lego sets and pieces.

Can LEGO bricks be composted?

No, LEGO bricks cannot be composted. They are made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic which does not biodegrade under composting conditions. LEGO bricks would need to be recycled or reused to avoid sending them to landfills.

The writers at care deeply about our planet’s future.

Please visit our site to learn more about living sustainably and reducing your environmental impact through everyday choices.

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