Plastic pollution is something everyone should not be aware of. In the news, a lot of focus has been on the plastic pollution created by the fashion and food industry, but sometimes it seems like the toy industry is getting a pass. If you think about it, the majority of children’s toys are made of plastic. According to Plastics, 90 per cent of all toys on the market are made of plastic, which is a ridiculous amount of plastic. So where do the discarded toys, that do not end up charity shops, end up? Plastic toys are becoming a substantial environmental problem, especially as quite a few can be found living in their new home, the rubbish dump.
Can Toy Companies Operate at Zero Operational Waste?
Raising sustainability-conscious kids is not easy, so why are companies not making it easier for parents? Well, a few small startups have been leading the movement by embracing circular economy principles. They are focusing on locally making toys from recycled straw, sawdust and plastic milk bottles, but I do wonder whether their efforts to create a sustainable toy market will lead to large mass producers like Hasbro. I am optimistic and believe it is possible. My optimism strengthened when I heard that Danish toy company Lego has begun the production of a new line of sustainable Lego accessories made from plant-based polyethene derived from sugarcane ethanol, as opposed to the polyethene from oil.
“The investment announced is a testament to our continued ambition to leave a positive impact on the planet, which future generations will inherit.”
The transition began with an announcement in 2012, then in 2015, the company pledged more than $155 million and recruited one hundred Lego employees to work at their Lego Sustainable Materials Centre. “Our mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow,” explained Lego owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen at the time. “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 has not been smooth sailing for the Danish company. The first hurdle they faced was the realisation that plastics made from polyethene comprise only 1% to 2% of the total plastic elements, totalling about 75 billion pieces made annually. Therefore Lego has had to find a way to convert its other blocks, 80% of which is petroleum-based ABS. That type of plastic provides the toughness, colour fastness and ability to interlock that the more flexible bioplastics do not as of yet. Also, the other issue is that while bioplastics appear to be more easy on the environment, sugarcane requires land, water and labour, but the good news is that a recent study found sugarcane plantations do not directly lead to deforestation when strictly and responsibly sourced from sugarcane.
Although their road to a more sustainable product is paved with good intentions, former Danfoss CEO Christiansen admitted in a recent interview with Industryweek.com, that he is unsure of how using sustainable materials could affect prices. So I guess we should not expect them to be cheap. He shared that a 4,100-piece roller coaster could set a parent back $380! Although it is great that Lego is looking to solely using plant-based polyethene by 2030, the flip side is that the change is going to hit most parents in the pocket. If the price hike does not scare you and you would still like to check out their new botanically themed “bioplastic” pieces, then you will be happy to know that they will be released next month. Roll on October 2018.