If you have a box of old Lego bricks sitting unused in an attic or garage, Lego now wants them back. In a new pilot program, consumers in the U.S. can dump old bricks in a box, print a free shipping label, and send them off to Give Back Box, a social enterprise that will clean the toys and repackage them for Teach for America and the Boys and Girls Club of Boston.
“We want the bricks to be played with as much as possible,” says Tim Brooks, vice president of corporate responsibility at Lego Group. It’s a small piece of the company’s work to become more environmentally sustainable. The company has invested in wind farms in Germany and the U.K. that now produce more electricity than it uses at its factories, offices, and stores. It’s beginning to make its toys out of plant-based plastic instead of petroleum-based plastic; by 2030, it plans to make everything out of plant-based or recycled materials. And while the bricks themselves are recyclable—if someone lives in a city that accepts the right kind of plastic—the company wants to keep them in use.
The classic Lego brick is made from a tough material called ABS, and the toys can be played with for decades without breaking. It’s already fairly common, of course, that Legos are handed down from one child to another. “We don’t want to compete with anything that’s already going on, if people are already giving bricks away to friends or family or local charities . . . it deserves to be played with by multiple generations,” Brooks says. But the company realized that there was an opportunity to put more of the toys back in use. In research, about 35% of its customers said that they would be “extremely likely” to participate in the new take-back program if they had access to it.
The company looked for a partner that could process the used toys while maintaining Lego’s standard of quality. Give Back Box will steam clean the toys and repackage them by hand. “We want to make sure that all kids are getting a great experience,” he says. “It shouldn’t be that you get a really inferior experience just because the bricks are donated.” If the pilot goes well, Brooks says, it may expand.
He sees it as one version of the circular economy, a system of keeping materials in use—and argues that the toys themselves illustrate the idea of the circular economy. “You can build a rocket and then you can take it apart and build a ship, and take that apart and build a car or a house or whatever you like,” Brooks says. As toys are reused, that’s another circular system. “We want to show that great quality toys like Lego can be used in lots of repeating circles—used, reused, donated, used, reused, donated.”