Lego are now producing sustainable sugarcane bricks. They aim to make the majority of their products sustainable by 2030. As part of our ‘Changing Markets’ series, we look at how the big toy companies are tackling the demand for plastic and why they feel motivated to move in this direction.

In 2018 Danish Toy Giant Lego started producing bricks made of polyethylene, a plastic made of sugar cane. Lego is starting with botanical elements such as leaves and bushes which make up around 2% of Lego’s total plastic element. The group’s aim is to make all bricks sustainable by 2030 and replace its current brick material which is an oil-based plastic.

Even school Raffle requests were coming with highlighted notes: “NO Lego please!”.

What is Polyethylene?

Composed of 98% polyethylene the redesigned product meets guidelines laid down by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) owing to the absorption of CO2 by sugar cane during the growth phase. While they are still not biodegradable, they can be recycled. This is great news as it had suddenly become apparent that Lego, once the party-gift of choice for anyone under 10 (and several over), was absolutely not welcome anymore. Even school Raffle requests were coming with highlighted notes: “NO Lego please!”.

So, what is Lego’s ultimate motivation when moving towards sustainable toys? The Environment? Legislation? Customer Demands?…

The Environment

Commenting on the new range last year, Tim Brooks, vice-president of environmental responsibility said: “At the Lego Group we want to make a positive impact on the world around us and are working hard to make great play products for children using sustainable materials.” However, some companies have criticised Lego (and Hasbro and Mattel) for not making the move quick enough. The general feeling is that targets of 10-20 years are just too long and could be achieved in a much shorter timeframe. There is a feeling that when the toy giants start losing market share to the sustainable brands, they will pick up the pace and shorten those lead times.

Legislation

The EU is pushing to legislate for all plastics to be bio plastics. It’s a big topic and where the UK will stand on the issue once Brexit is completed in March next year remains to be seen. “More and more governments in the EU are moving on bio plastics, there are more and more legislations being put forward and more laws and changes are being imposed. It does all take time, and it may not be this year that we take the market completely, but we see that that is coming.” Job Nijssen, Manager at BioBuddi (Sustainable Toy Brand)

Customer Demand

As, with the food industry, it has been shown than customers are moving towards more eco-friendly options and will often pay a higher price for them. BioBuddi is a Dutch sustainable toy company whose range of toys are made from sugar cane waste material sourced from Brazil. BioBuddi launched in 2017 and they have noticed that parents are really considering the future and making decisions regarding the toys they buy based on materials rather than price.

Sustainable, educational toys for kids. BiOBUDDi is the first and only organic building blocks brand. No plastic, no chemicals.

So what else are the big Toy Giants doing to minimise their environmental impact?

It would be unfair to suggest that Lego, Hasbro and Mattel are not making strides forward. Here are the ways in which they are making changes:

  • Has eliminated all PVC as well as phthalates from its toys
  • As of 2019, is using smaller boxes to reduce its annual packaging by 4000 tonnes and is using cardboard from sustainable forests
  • Lego and its parent company, Kirkby, are investing in wind energy to contribute at least as much energy as the company consumes
  • Recycles 90% of its waste products
  • Lego is one of the top 10 brands to land on the Reputation Institute's 2012 Global Corporate Social Responsibility Reputation list.

  • by 2020 Hasbro plans to reduce waste to landfill by 50%, energy consumption by 25%, GHG emissions by 20 percent and water consumption by 15%
  • Hasbro is also working to reduce its packaging material, eliminate polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from packaging, increase recycled content and source paper responsibly. For these efforts, the company recently was awarded an Environmental Merit Award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • They have removed non-recyclable cable toys and internal packaging in many toys and have re-designed their play doh packaging.
  • Hasbro has gained top place on the Climate counts Scorecard 4 years in a row. It has scored 73/100 in regard to measuring its climate footprint.

  • Mattel has made changes to its packaging processes and, just by changing the plastic ties inside packaging, has removed 363 tonnes worth of non-recyclable packaging.
  • They stopped using Asia Pulp and Paper which was linked with heavy deforestation.

By 2020 Hasbro plans to reduce waste to landfill by 50%, energy consumption by 25%, GHG emissions by 20 percent and water consumption by 15%

Sustainable toy brands to look out for:

BioBuddiSafe and educational toys make from waste materials from the sugarcane plant.

Imagination GrowsWooden toys to stimulate the imagination

Ethical KidsThe aim is that these toys will help kids have fun, be healthy, environmentally friendly and be interested in the world around them. The company wishes to support creativity in local communities.

Myriad Natural ToysToys chosen in line with the Steiner belief that children learn while they play. There is a large range of natural wooden toys.

Plan ToysNatural aesthetic quality through wooden toys for over 30 years.

Grimms ToysWood sourced from sustainable forests and harmless colours and oils.

Pinch ToysCotton, felt, wood and non-toxic paints make these 100% handmade toys a joy to look at and play with.

JanodAward winning, eco-friendly international firm Janod produced stylish wooden & cardboard toys to make every moment a learning-filled one.

HapeThe world’s largest producer of wooden toys. Every aspect of their production line is scrutinised to minimise environmental impact.

Green ToysU.S based toy firm which uses 100% recycled materials.

Ever EarthSustainable wooden toys. Ever earth is committed to the ‘Plant a Tree’ campaign.

BioserieBioserie uses a blend of modified PLA that contains no petrochemical additives.

TeguBrilliantly simple and quality toys that will last for generations. Magnetic toys made from sustainably sourced hardwoods. Tegu is committed to natural products.

CaaochoCaaocho is the South American Indian word for rubber. The company has produced a line of 100% natural rubber toys that are safe, non-toxic, sensory and fun.