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Lego is replacing its clear plastic bags with recyclable paper

The company wants its packaging to be sustainable by 2025, so the crinkly bags have got to go.

Lego is replacing its clear plastic bags with recyclable paper
[Photo: Lego]

If you buy a Lego set today, the toy bricks come packed in tiny numbered plastic bags. Every year, the toy manufacturer uses hundreds of millions of those bags. But the company is starting to phase out single-use plastic, with the goal of making its packaging sustainable by 2025—and those bags are a big part of it. Next year, it will begin rolling out an alternative, with bricks packed in Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper instead.

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An elaborate Lego kit with pieces divided into many small plastic packets. [Photo: Flickr user Steve Jurvetson]
“We want to ensure recycling our bags is as easy as possible for builders,” says Tim Brooks, vice president of environmental responsibility at the Lego Group. “Plastic recycling facilities are not very common and differ from country to country, which is why we chose to make the bags out of recyclable paper.”

The company tested new packaging options extensively, searching for something that would be sustainable but also strong enough to hold Lego bricks, easy to pack in boxes, and something that children liked to use. “We tested about 15 different prototypes with hundreds of children and parents but explored many more, including those made from recycled plastic and even paper made from stone,” Brooks says. “The prototypes varied in shape, material, and graphic design. As we start trialing the paper bags in Lego boxes in 2021, people will see both white and brown paper bags as we learn more about which is the best possible material from a functional perspective, and which design provides the best play experience for children.” The new bags will gradually roll out over the next five years as the company continues to test the new design.

[Photo: Lego]
Switching to paper avoids the waste issues of plastic but also has another unplanned advantage: It’s more fun to unwrap. “The single-use plastic bags we have previously used to package loose bricks in Lego boxes are clear so builders could see what bricks were inside,” Brooks says. “With the paper bags, children don’t have that preview, and in testing, we found they enjoyed the suspense of opening the paper bag.”

[Photo: Lego]
Over the next three years, the company will invest $400 million to accelerate its move toward sustainability, including moving to carbon-neutral operations, making the business more circular, and expanding its R&D work on new materials for Lego bricks. By the end of the decade, the company plans to no longer use oil-based plastic, and some sets are now made with a plastic made from sugar cane.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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