LEGO aim to make their bricks with an alternative material to plastic by 2030 and hemp bioplastic could offer a viable solution.
In order to dramatically reduce its impact on the planet LEGO could potentially make their signature bricks out of hemp bioplastic instead of traditional plastic material.
In 2015 the company established the LEGO Sustainable Materials Centre and invested £1.20m in order to meet its 2030 ambition of finding and implementing sustainable alternatives to current materials for both its products and packaging. Since, the company has launched its ‘botanical elements’ sustainable bioplastic product range, consisting of small trees and bushes, that are made from sugarcane.
LEGO’s bricks as we know them will be a thing of the past
LEGO makes a total of 19 billion bricks a year in 53 different colours. Since 1949 the company have been turning out their plastic bricks that are made from Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), a thermoplastic and amorphous polymer made from three different monomers: acrylonitrile, 1,3-butadiene and styrene.
Currently, the majority of LEGO packaging is cardboard or paper-based which is recyclable, sustainably sourced and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. However, although some of their packaging is recyclable, not all of it is. The company is now looking to replace the brick and packaging material with more environmentally friendly ones that can produce the same high-quality products made today and hemp bioplastic could offer a solution in a number of different regards.
LEGO said: “We want to find sustainable sources to replace our current oil-based raw materials so the plastic we use can be made from sustainable or bio-based raw materials”.
Could hemp bioplastic be an alternative?
So, could LEGO be looking to use hemp as one of its sustainable materials in the future? Used for thousands of years to make all kinds of materials from paper and fibre to industrial materials, fuels and cosmetics, and even ‘hempcrete’, this versatile plant can offer a viable alternative to current plastics used in everyday products. The plant grows extremely quickly and prolifically and takes up much less land space than traditional crops.
The cousin of the psychoactive cannabis plant, containing less than 0.3% THC – Hemp is biodegradable, non-toxic and can also be pesticide free, as well as being extremely durable when turned into bioplastic material. Infamous car manufacturer Henry Ford was a big advocate of the plant and made a prototype car in 1941 that had a body made from 70% hemp material.
The benefits of the hemp plant and hemp bioplastic
Not only is hemp bioplastic biodegradable, but it has many benefits for the environment when it is growing. Hemp can clean the soil it is planted in. Through phytoremediation hemp can remove toxins and contaminants, such as metals, solvents and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, from the soil, creating healthier and more fertile soil. Hemp also uses much less fertiliser and water than other crops meaning it is relatively low maintenance and much more environmentally friendly.
Hemp stalks, which is what hemp bioplastics are made from, provide a very high cellulose count, around 70% – the element needed in order to produce plastic – and can be heated and put under pressure in order to produce nanocellulose, a gel like plastic product.
Hemp also plays a huge role in carbon farming as it has a negative carbon footprint. Hemp locks in carbon meaning it will not be released back into the atmosphere and is scientifically proven to absorb more CO2 per hectare than woods, forests and other similar crops. Aside from this, the yield of hemp is much higher over small areas of land than other crops, so much more of it can be grown whilst using a lot less land.
A sustainable future for LEGO
The LEGO Group believes a new sustainable material must have an ever-lighter footprint than the material it replaces across key environmental and social impact areas such as fossil resource use, human rights and climate change.
LEGO Group owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen said: “Our mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. We believe that our main contribution to this is through the creative play experiences we provide to children. The investment announced is a testament to our continued ambition to leave a positive impact on the planet, which future generations will inherit. It is certainly in line with the mission of the LEGO Group and in line with the motto of my grandfather and founder of the LEGO Group, Ole Kirk Kristiansen: Only the best is good enough”.
Tim Brooks, Vice President Environmental Responsibility at the LEGO Group said: “By 2025, our aim is that no LEGO packaging parts have to end up in a landfill. Packaging will be made from renewable or recycled materials and will be easy for consumers to recycle”.
As manufacturing, commerce and retail moves towards lessening carbon footprints – could hemp bioplastic be a good solution to our plastic problems?