Just two weeks ago, Lego announced the launch of sustainable, plant-based plastic figures to add to their collection of bricks, minifigure people and other accessories. Lego produce exclusively plastic products, a material which is not biodegradable and contributes to a large proportion of landfill.
Plastic has also been in the public eye recently with regard to the welfare of the ocean, and the effect of plastics which make their way into marine ecosystems. To combat these negative impacts, directly influenced by the toymaker, Lego has decided to introduce bioplastic figures made from polyethylene using ethanol extracted from sugar cane. This plastic can be recycled many times, although may not be 100% biodegradable. This strategy is part of a wider commitment to replace all oil-based raw materials currently used with sustainable alternatives by 2030. The initial plant-based figures will be, suitably, plants, which will be sold in sets with the famous bricks and other accessories later in 2018. Lego state that the new plastic will meet the standards of the manufacturer and the consumer in terms of appearance and durability.
However, while a step in the right direction, bioplastic plants may be too small a step. Lego’s attempt at sustainability may be labelled as ‘tokenism’, a behavioural phenomenon often recognised in attempts to mitigate environmental breakdown. The term defines the tendency to undertake sustainable action that is easy to adopt but has little or no positive impact, as opposed to higher cost, more effective action. Lego’s introduction of sustainable tree figures may represent exactly this behaviour. Only 1-2% of Lego’s plastic elements will be polyethylene based, and presently being limited to plant-figures means that they will be simultaneously produced and sold with the conventional oil-based bricks and accessories. It might be argued that the release of plant-based plastic figures contributes only to the image of environmental responsibility that any major corporation or manufacturer is required to uphold, as opposed to effective mitigation of environmental breakdown. While the awareness and responsibility of Lego in making mitigating efforts can be commended, it is important to recognise that pro-environmental intent may not always correspond with pro-environmental impact- and perhaps major companies should be more conscious to this.
'First sustainable Lego pieces to go on sale'
Gifford, R. (2009) ‘The dragons of inaction: Psychological Barriers that limit Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation’ American Psychologist 66(4): 290-302
Stern, P. C. (2000) ‘Toward a coherent theory of environmentally significant behavior’ Journal of Social Issues 56: 407–424
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