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LEGO pile. (Photo Credit: David Lofink / Flickr)

LEGO pile. (Photo Credit: David Lofink / Flickr)

Earlier this month, the LEGO Group announced that it will invest about $150 million to develop a sustainable material that will replace the plastic resin in its LEGO bricks.

Founded in 1932 by Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen (the word “lego” is actually a play on two Danish words, “leg godt,” which means “play well”), the company first released the LEGO brick as it’s known today in 1958. Presently, LEGO uses over 6,000 tons of plastic annually in the creation of its bricks, 70 percent of which is in resin form. This plastic resin, Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, is what LEGO is looking to phase out by 2030.

In a news release, LEGO Group owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen said the search for a sustainable replacement for ABS is part of the company’s “continued ambition to leave a positive impact on the planet, which future generations will inherit.”

LEGO is not only hoping to reduce its plastic footprint, it is also reducing its carbon emissions by packaging its products in smaller boxes. Since June 2014, new LEGO products have been packaged in boxes that use 14 percent less paper on average. That year, an estimated 6,000 tons of cardboard was saved and 3,000 fewer trucks were required to ship products, reducing the company’s carbon emissions by 10,000 tonnes. The new packages have also been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

In the future, LEGO plans to make its packaging even more environmentally friendly.

Part of LEGO’s investment in sustainable research and development will go towards the construction of the LEGO Sustainable Materials Center in Denmark. The Center will be staffed by over 100 specialists and plans to open in 2016.

“This is a major step for the Lego Group on our way towards achieving our 2030 ambition on sustainable materials,” said CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp. “We have already taken important steps to reduce our carbon footprint and leave a positive impact on the planet by reducing the packaging size, by introducing [Forest Stewardship Council] certified packaging and through our investment in an offshore wind farm. Now we are accelerating our focus on materials.”

According to Allan Rasmussen, senior project manager for LEGO, the biggest challenge in creating a sustainable replacement for ABS will be endowing the material with the same properties that gives LEGO its signature “clutch power.” The new bricks need to not only work and feel the same as ABS bricks, they also need to blend in with those already in circulation.

“I need to find a material that is just as good as this one,” said Rasmussen. “I need to find a material that will be just as good in 50 years, because these are passed down from generation to generation.”

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