Starting this year, buyers of new Lego playsets will begin to see a new type of block in their boxes—ones made of plant-based plastic.
The Danish company announced the initiative on Thursday, confirming that roughly “1-2 percent” of all Lego bricks are now being made of sugarcane-sourced polyethylene . For this material-switch rollout, Lego has made the admittedly cute decision of using it to produce playsets’ tiny Lego plants—as in, trees, shrubs, vines, and patches of grass.
The company’s announcement describes the plant-based pieces’ composition as “technically identical” to its standard blocks’ materials, and Lego notes the new pieces have been tested to meet the company’s standards. (It doesn’t confirm whether this means Arduino-testing rigs or having bedraggled parents accidentally walk over them on bare feet and remark on how similarly painful they feel.) And unsurprisingly, these new pieces will have the company’s standard circle-grid structure on their bottoms to ensure compatibility with decades of Lego pieces and sets.
In spite of this “technically identical” composition, the announcement doesn’t confirm what the hold-up is to roll this kind of material out beyond a 1 to 2 percent sector. Lego did not confirm whether the hold-up is due to larger piece designs, sugarcane polyethylene production sourcing, green tint from that specific kind of polyethylene, or other issues.
In 2012, Lego announced a corporate initiative to find more “sustainable” materials for its block pieces, which the company once estimated are produced to the tune of “more than 60 billion” a year. That was followed in 2015 by the announcement of a corporate Sustainable Materials Center and a hiring drive of over 100 R&D staffers . All these initiatives align with the company’s long-stated goal of using a complete “sustainable material” pipeline for its Lego bricks and pieces by the year 2030. Thursday’s announcement sees the company stick to that timeline, as opposed to fast forwarding it in any way.
Research about plant-based polyethylene has pointed to environmental impact such as cropland expansion and fertilizer use, but the literature ultimately points to a net gain compared to the use of fossil fuels for the materials.