back to article How do we stop filling the oceans with Lego? By being a BaaS-tard, toy maker suggests

Beloved brick maker Lego is considering a rental service as part of a drive to improve sustainability in a world where hatred of plastic is threatening their attractiveness as a toy. Tim Brooks, Lego's VP of sustainability, told the Financial Times (paywalled) that it was just an idea at the moment and admitted there are still …

  1. Nosher

    The penultimate paragraph in that article nails it really. Lego is way down the scale when it comes to plastic-based environmental offences (the odd container that falls off a ship is hardly its fault), as the stuff simply doesn't get thrown away. It's handed down, donated to charity shops or re-sold in yard sales, but not binned.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      The penultimate paragraph in that article nails it really

      i.e.

      bricks bought today will work with any produced since 1959

      Yup. My brother is 12 years older than I am and I inherited his collection of Lego to add to mine in the 1970s. I even "inherited" some Lego from schoolfriends in the 1980s who were ready to give it up before I was.

      Now my own children are adding their own to mine. Some of the bricks they are using are 55 years old and I see them every time I am shown the latest creations. I could count on the fingers of both hands the numbers of "bricks" that have actually broken over the years - mostly the 1960s blue rail tracks and a couple of those lattice fence panels.

      My eldest is 18 and is currently creating a set of Rev. Awdry models in Lego. He's into railways too, and the current Hornby OO layout in my dad's attic uses some track and models which I used in the 1970s. The only thing which really didn't survive were the points - I had no concept then of how to wire the layout and most of my points from the 1970s have melted plastic where the switch contacts are so won't operate properly and tend to derail trains :-)

      M.

      1. teknopaul Silver badge

        My nephew incorporated broken latice pieces as missile damage to his latest creation.

        Dont bin the broken bits!

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Exactly. As a kid, I had a big box of Lego, it had stuff from the early 60s through to the 70s and early 80s, by the time I grew out of it and it was passed on to my cousin's kids.

      The same for my wife, we have a big Ikea tub full of Lego, that her kids played with, in the loft, which is going to go to our grandchildren.

      I don't think there is any problem with using plastic on products which will be used for decades. It is using plastic in product packaging and disposable products that is the problem. We use re-usable nets for fruit and vegetable, we take containers to the supermarket for fresh meat and cheese and we use cotton or hemp bags or a wicker basket for carrying the shopping. We also avoid products with excessive packaging, where possible.

      1. John 104

        Why did your wife make her kids play with Lego in the loft? Surely the bedroom or kitchen table is more suitable?

      2. vir

        >>I don't think there is any problem with using plastic on products which will be used for decades.

        Add in also Lego's policy of minimal (increasing, but still minimal) amount of planned incompatibility/obsolescence.

  2. NoneSuch Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    If only...

    ...we could build a bridge between the problem and solution.

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

      Re: If only...

      You'd need some kind of modular, interchangeable system of easily purchased parts to do that. Off hand, I can't think of where you would find something like that.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If only...

        Meccano?

  3. quattroprorocked

    Lego is heirloom material

    As a boy in the early 70's I would spend my pocket money on Lego (and Airfix, natch), and also inherited a load of Lego that was quite a lot older than me.

    My boys then loved lego and inherited the lot. (This involved a Journey To The Loft. Something you don't get in modern homes).

    As they grew, it went to a small friend :-)

    It lives still :-)

    1. d3vy Silver badge

      Re: Lego is heirloom material

      Sorry to deviate from topic... Modern homes don't have lofts? I'm confused?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Lego is heirloom material

        "Modern homes don't have lofts?"

        I took that to mean that lofts (attics to us Yanks ... a loft over here is something else) are rarely a multi-generational catch-all these days.

      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Lego is heirloom material

        Yes, I lived in a modern building in Bavaria and it had a loft/attic. Our house has one as well.

        My nephew built a new house this year and that has a very big loft/attic.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Lego is heirloom material

          In the UK I think most houses have some kind of an attic / loft, except those which are designed with "rooms in the roof". What amazes me though is that even when not putting a room in the roof, nearly all new houses these days seem to fit some kind of roof truss which minimises the amount of free space in the attic - typically "fink trusses" as illustrated here.

          I think it's because a fink truss can use less timber than other typs and so is a little cheaper. Trusses of any type are certainly quicker than a traditional "cut" roof, but specifying "attic" trusses (illustrated above as "room in the roof" trusses), even for roofs which are not tall enough to allow later conversion to a proper room, does make for a much more usable attic space at not a lot of additional cost.

          The UK is renowned for not taking well to innovation. There are plenty of other types of roof construction - for example structural insulated panels which can also make a difference to the amount of usable space in an attic, but you don't see them used terribly often around here.

          These days you might be looking to put things like MVHR systems in the house, and an attic would be a great space for that - if its construction allowed you to get the blasted equipment in!

          M.

          1. Korev Silver badge

            Re: Lego is heirloom material

            The problem in the UK is the houses are built as cheaply as the builder can get away with (despite the insane cost of a house)

          2. big_D Silver badge

            Re: Lego is heirloom material

            I think the last house I had in the UK probably had Queen Truss. My current German house seems to have a King Truss construction - single pillars in the middle of the space.

          3. MOH

            Re: Lego is heirloom material

            Two birds, one stone: just build the roof truss out of Lego

      3. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Lego is heirloom material

        I live in a rented house that's about 150 years old, and clearly been retrofitted at some point.

        There's an entrance to the loft in one of the bathrooms, but if you pop up through the hatch, you'll find yourself in what was presumably the top of an existing room, about 1m high, with another hatch in a corner which goes up into the actual loft space.

        The strange half room still has old wallpaper which seems to have been a kids bedroom ~1950ish.

  4. mark l 2 Silver badge

    Some of the problem with the modern LEGO kits is that they contain a lot of bespoke pieces which if lost make building the kits from the instructions impossible and are difficult to use for anything else other than their original intention. They need to go back to using mostly generic bricks and only use a one off part where absolutely necessary.

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      You can still get bog standard lego kits, though you might have to go to the Lego shop to get them, rather than a generic toy shop.

      Surely the whole point of lego is that you can design and build your own creations, and the kits you get in generic toy shops just don't do that.

      1. Timmy B Silver badge

        "You can still get bog standard lego kits, though you might have to go to the Lego shop to get them, rather than a generic toy shop."

        Nah - Amazon, (in the UK) Argos, most toy stores do standard lego classic boxes. Easy to get. Lego creator sets also encourage changes and creative play.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Some of the problem with the modern LEGO kits is that they contain a lot of bespoke pieces"

      .... or, for people who were brought up on a previous generation of LEGO, some of the problem with modern LEGO kits is that they CHEAT by inventing new pieces all the time .... I remember my shock when building a kit with my son finding that LEGO now had pieces that allowed you to build at 90 degrees from the main vertical stacks - I remember having to come up with very Heath-Robinson schemes of building out from the studs on wheels to achieve that and then having to deal with the irritation than wheel rotated!

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Didn't you work out that the flat pieces could be mounted at 90 degrees by putting the edge of one piece between the studs of another? I used that quite a lot in the 1970s, also the technique of using hinges to build at angles. This latter technique is used in a lot of modern models because it enables you to have surfaces any angle you like, not just parallel or perpendicular.

        M.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          SNOT

          SNOT Studs Not On Top, I have built a building which had studs in 5 directions (up, down, left, right, out)

          1. Timmy B Silver badge

            Re: SNOT

            Lightweight :) - I'm looking at a cube I made with studs out on all sides.....Uses totally illegal building techniques but it can be done!

          2. Timmy B Silver badge

            Re: SNOT

            ok - I realised that wasn't good enough - attacked the lego box and I have, sat on my desk, a 4x4 plate studs out cube made with legal techniques...

      2. Timmy B Silver badge

        "Some of the problem with the modern LEGO kits is that they contain a lot of bespoke pieces"

        Always been the way. Or do you want to stick just to 4x2 bricks?

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Ours has gone back into storage waiting for a 3rd generation. Be nice to see it in use again....

  6. McAllister

    I have the solution.

    Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys. If the toys are thrown out, the wood returns to mother earth. Those passed down can be considered carbon storage. I should get substantial credits for the amount of Lincoln Logs I have in my basement.

    1. Dave 32
      Pint

      Re: I have the solution.

      Just remember that, at one point, Lincoln Logs were made from plastic.

      Dave

    2. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: I have the solution.

      Do your, ah, um cats also visit your basement? A potato headed friend of mine made that mistake too...

    3. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: I have the solution.

      I also had Tinker Toys, and some other building set called Toggle Blocks, not eco-friendly either, all plastic with some metal axles.

  7. Thoguht Silver badge
    Trollface

    Why doesn't everyone just send their unwanted bricks to Donald Trump? I'm sure he could find a use for them.

    1. IGotOut

      Burn them in a open pit to make electricity?

    2. jake Silver badge

      Unwanted LEGO?

      What blasphemy is this? BURN THE HERETIC!

      1. DontFeedTheTrolls Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Re: Unwanted LEGO?

        That's like the ProLifeTip that you can freeze unfinished wine and use it as ice cubes next time.

        Like there's ever going to be unfinished wine :O

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    maybe try fishing nets

    If you captured all of the lego bricks in the ocean by only using fishing nets that are floating abandoned in the ocean, and never used the same net twice, You'd still be cleaning up the ocean even if you never trawled any lego bricks. Hell, you might trawl a handful of straws before you get any lego.

  9. chivo243 Silver badge
    Go

    Lego-Lease

    Very soon, I am looking at storing my son's estate now that he has other interests. Would be nice to recover some of the outlay for his lego estate!

    1. .james

      Re: Lego-Lease

      You'll probably want to familiarise yourself with https://www.bricklink.com

  10. Paul Herber Silver badge

    Girl bricks

    Girls, drink, feck, I love my lego brick!

  11. YARR

    Re: Replay - I thought old LEGO bricks were made from carcinogenic / BPA plastics that are unsuitable for toys that kids might put in their mouths?

    So isn't it time to get the kids savvy with 3D printing instead of old fashioned blocks? When they're bored of one toy, feed it back into the 3D printer to make a different toy, no plastic wasted.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Remember plasticine reuse... You started out with a kit of bright colours but quite quickly the colours got mixed resulting in mottled creations. Suspect similar would happen here.

      Suspect this approach will result in ore plastic waste as people will simply throw out the used stuff, because they want the sharp clean colours that new plastic resin provides.

  12. Eeep !

    Of all the plastic things Lego is probably the least single use

    A recent BBC radio programme detailed the research Lego were investing in in reusable plastics and then had a reporter asking an unfortunate Lego employee about recycling. Which was unfair because all the Lego representative could really explain was that he had played with Lego his father had played with and now his son played with the same bricks - hardly a tale of rampant enviromental destruction - which appeared to be what their customers did. And that's the sort of thing I'm seeing in the people around me - parents passing their Lego down to their kids and then their kids.

    Seriously, beyond drinking straws there was no serious questioning in the radio show of single use medical items or plastic single use hot drink/soup item packaging where you add hot water and throw away the packaging, or those cable ties and plastic blisterpack shells used for security. Have there been any studies on what happens to loombands, or Hama/Aqua beads and similar toys that are basically used once to create some sort of mosaic art?

    Is there ever truely an unwanted Lego brick? (except the ones temporarily in a parent's sole) Does anyone ever throw away Lego on purpose, except out of ignorance or spite?

    And by-the-way the Lego Replay initiative appears to be an awesome idea!

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Of all the plastic things Lego is probably the least single use

      As someone has said above, the huge problem is fishing gear. However; there seems to be no real move to make fishermen cleanup their act.

  13. TWB

    Any plastic experts out there?

    I agree that Lego usually gets handed down and never thrown out, but some of mine/ours is over 45 years old now and it has teeth marks and some is a little weakened or some bits are broken.

    Can the plastic be melted down and re-cast/remoulded into new bricks? I know Lego has been made from different types of plastic over the years. I'm sure it could be sorted by colour (I'd be happy to do it, but then I'm weird....)

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Any plastic experts out there?

      ABS plastic is never as good when recycled as when new. For Lego this means they can probably recycle a small amount of fresh factory waste (Sprues and such) by adding a small percentage to new material but used Lego bricks cannot be recycled to something with sufficient quality. You can probably make other stuff out of it, but it is usually much weaker plastic.

  14. jake Silver badge

    "some are likely onto their third generation of users."

    Try fifth generation ... My Grandaughter is playing with a couple of kits first purchased & built by my Grandfather.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: "some are likely onto their third generation of users."

      My Grandaughter is playing with a couple of kits first purchased & built by my Grandfather.

      That's going some. Taking 1949 (Wikipedia date - the article says 1959, which Wikipedia says is the date of the first "modern" Lego brick) as the earliest your grandfather could have bought Lego, that's five generations to fit into 70 years. Assuming he was a child - let's say eight years old - back in 1959 and had his first child when he was 20, that implies that your father was born in 1961. Doing the same for you puts your birthdate at 1981, and your child's at 2001. That child would only be 18 now, so for you to have a grandchild safe to play with standard Lego (as opposed to Duplo, which didn't come out until 1969 according to Wikipedia) now, said grandchild would have to have been born at least three years ago...

      Lots of assumptions, sorry if I've messed anything up, and the dates would work a lot better if your grandfather had bought the Lego as an adult :-)

      Personally, my father is too old to have played with Lego as a child. He was quite old (even by modern standards) when I was born, and I was well out of my 20s when my first was born, hence some of the Lego being played with by my children is only on its second generation, even though it may be 55 years old (I inherited some from my much older brother).

      M.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: "some are likely onto their third generation of users."

        My Grandfather bought a kit for me for xmas each year in the 1960s. He gave them to me in a completed state ... The pair of us disassembled them, and I rebuilt them. I have no idea why he chose to do it this way, he died before I thought to ask him. He had a couple of the kits on a shelf in hie own house, the London Bus and the "Vintage Car", so I suppose he enjoyed them himself. The two are here in my office.

        My father gave me a kit for my birthday each year in the same time frame, and emulated his dad by presenting them to me in a built state. Dad says that he pre-built them in the early years so I would know that it was possible to build it with the parts supplied, and he thinks that's why his dad did it that way. When I got a little older, it had become tradition. I built the first couple kits for my daughter, and again for my granddaughter.

        1. The Pi Man

          Re: "some are likely onto their third generation of users."

          Well it’s obvious.. he knew he’d never get a look in once you’d got hold of it!

  15. Precordial thump

    Obligatory xkcd

    Lego makes more tyres than any other company on earth

  16. TechnicalBen Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Best option is banning recyclable and self made PLA bricks...

    Oh wait.

    /sarcasm in case anyone did not realise.

  17. Mike 137 Bronze badge

    A couple of interesting highlights

    This proposal by Lego and some of the comments above illustrate a couple of societal trends that should be cause for concern.

    First, the growing trend towards leasing or renting everything. Ownership (and consequently the freedom both to modify and to bequeath to descendents) of durable goods and chattels is being replaced by constant trickle payment for lifetime-limited things you don't ever own. The total cost of use is often greater than that of outright purchase would be, the expectation of durability of things is less, and there's no continuity down the generations. The primary winner is the producer/supplier - more profit and reduced cost of manufacture. The primary loser is anyone interested in more than the purely ephemeral. Continuity supports personal history, and personal history is a key driver for the evolution of culture.

    Second, an increasing trend toward having our decisions made for us in advance, rather than us exercising our individual ingenuity and judgement on the fly. The original Lego was a collection of rectangular bricks, out of which we made whatever came to mind - maybe lumpy but expressions of our own invention. Similarly Meccano was a collection of simple parts out of which we built what we imagined, sometimes modifying parts by bending, twisting or cutting. Later iterations of Lego became increasingly like Airfix kits - sets of specific parts for constructing a predetermined model.

    This trend has become dominant even in more sophisticated technological areas. Where we once soldered together microprocessors, memory and peripheral chips of our own choosing to make computers and control systems, we now buy Raspberry Pi or Arduino and plug in ready made IO modules designed by someone else. For getting complex jobs done quickly this is great, but for learning the underlying principles of systems it's useless.

    These two trends are both symptomatic of and contributory to loss of orientation and expertise - two necessary ingredients both for full exercise of humanity and for the future of the very technologies we increasingly rely on.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: A couple of interesting highlights

      I'm not at all comfortable with the "rent everything" model either. At the very least it means you can't "muck about with" the thing you are renting or have the flexibility to use it in not-quite the way the owner wants you to. Car leases with limited mileage, for example, and heavy penalties for going over. It's not just rental either; I was petrified of breaking my £400 BBC micro back-in-the-day and agonised over upgrades I fitted. It's not quite the same with a £35 Raspberry Pi which - taking inflation into account - is something like one thirtieth the cost.

      I'm a bit ambivalent about the "special" bricks Lego makes. The worst ones are as you say used for constructing a predetermined model and most often used for film tie-ins. It's rather difficult to construct a half-way accurate (say) Caterham Lotus 7 (didn't want to link to an X-wing or Hagrid's Hut or similar) without a few specially-created parts, but the beauty of Lego is that once you have overcome the horror of dismantling your expensive and carefully-crafted model you can re-use even the specialist parts in other creations. Not like Airfix in that respect!

      There is definitely a trend towards "modularisation" though, in everything. Gone are the days when a misbehaving TV would visit a man with a 'scope who would twiddle a pot and replace a valve. I once started to build a computer in wire-wrap at home, just for a laugh. I had a 6502, some SRAM, some EEPROM, a 74x138 address decoder or two and some other 74 series logic, buffers etc. I had done similar things at college and at work, but it still felt a bit like cheating. Why was I using a 74138 when I could be doing the address decoding with 7400 and 7404? Come to that, why stop at 7400 and 7404, surely I should be using 748 op-amps (shudder)? Or maybe I should just go the whole hog and build it in transistors? I'd got most of it wired up before losing interest. It's still in a box in the attic somewhere... I then discovered Arduino.

      How far do you go? Does everybody need to know the inner workings of everything? Probably not, but I'd argue very strongly that everybody should at least be interested in the inner workings of everything, even if it's just as a pretty picture in an Usborne book.

      I've been incredibly impressed with one of my children - a typical media "consumer" I really worried when he said he wanted to do Computer Science (not "IT") for GCSE, but with only a little help from me along the way he seems to be doing well and his assessed Python project actually runs without any syntax errors, though there are still some flaws in the logic he says.

      So the intelligent thermostats I need for the new house? No. I'm not buying them, but neither am I creating them from scratch. I'll be constructing them from Feathers (Arduino-alike) with lots of pre-built add-on modules for display, sensing, radio comms etc.

      M.

      1. WallMeerkat

        Re: A couple of interesting highlights

        Agree totally

        Though with the EV revolution etc. and Tory murmurings that they want to reduce car ownership, I could see a model where you 'book' a car to arrive when you need it. I live rurally and commute to a busy park and ride, so it's giving me a headache.

        With the likes of Raspberry Pi, users can learn to high level program. Imagine trying to solder your own PC, an write a TCP stack in assembler. There is a hell of a lot of 'standing on the shoulders of giants' to modern computing. Yes it's nice to dive right down sometimes, but I would hate to build an app speaking to a REST API on a microprocessor I had to build myself.

        Even the pi though is too low level for consumers who just want to look at things or get things done, hence the popularity of tablets/iPads.

        And as you say with your Caterham set, I have the Mini Cooper model. Not sure if it has any bespoke parts - one criticism is that it looks too square like a Land Rover, the wheelarches are actually reused a curved windscreen, albeit no longer transparent :)

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: A couple of interesting highlights

          your Caterham set

          I feel the need to point out here that I do not actually own a Caterham set. In fact, I've not bought any Lego for myself since I was about 16 (plenty for the children though). On the other hand, I do know a man who does have a Caterham set, and a Tower Bridge, and a Saturn V, and quite a lot of the other big ones too, including a rather large one that comes in three boxes and hadn't yet been built the last time I met him...

          :-)

          M.

  18. codejunky Silver badge

    Eh?

    Oceans of lego? Are we so desperate to complain about just anything? Great comments on this forum of reuse for generations and even if we didnt we aint filling the oceans with rubbish. Plastic is used for a reason, thumbs up to lego and keep doing a great job of entertaining our kids.

    1. nijam

      Re: Eh?

      > Plastic is used for a reason

      If only I could upvote this a thousand-fold

  19. WallMeerkat

    The point of lego

    Surely the point of lego is that you can use the bricks to rebuild what you want?

    Growing up I had F1 sets, house sets, castle sets, cars, boats, planes, technic etc. and it all ended up in the big lego tub.

    From there I could build whatever I wanted (usually garages and the likes) which wouldn't be possible if I was posting lego back after building the single thing.

    Of course now I'm grown up I'm back into lego given their 'grown up models' approach (Mini Cooper, Mustang etc.) which I'll unlikely take apart, but I'll also likely keep displayed then hand down to my daughter when she's old enough to know to not try to eat everything.

  20. JulieM Silver badge

    Wrong Problem

    The plastic that's polluting the oceans is the single-use variety. And Lego is anything but single-use plastic! In fact, it's pretty much the definition of reusable; some entertainment value is derived from pulling your creations apart and making them into something even better.

    I know my niece and nephew used to enjoy playing with my old Lego until just a few years ago, and can be reasonably confident that it will be passed on to the next generation when the time arrives.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Wrong Problem

      when the time arrives

      I think you've hit the nail on the head there. The key thing with Lego isn't just that it's reusable - it's that people will hang on to the stuff until it is reused. There are now some Lego "clones", but while they're cheaper to buy than Lego, all the ones I've met actually feel cheap to use, too. They aren't made with quite the same precision, or in quite as good quality plastic and they fall apart under their own weight if you don't pick them up in quite the right way.

      Good quality and a high purchase cost means that people put a high value on real Lego and are loathe to throw it away. At the very least it'll end up in the local village hall's creche facility, or in the jumble sale or at the charity shop, but many people (quite a lot in this topic) simply hang on to the stuff until they have younger relatives of their own to hand it on to, and maybe relive some part of their youth.

      M.

      1. nijam

        Re: Wrong Problem

        > They aren't made with quite the same precision, or in quite as good quality plastic

        Although that's mainly right, there are now quite a large number of Lego clones and compatibles*; some are indeed awful, but some are nearly as good as the one true Lego.

        * last time I looked, even Airfix models appeared to incorporate some Lego-style connectors.

  21. David 18

    Baby and bathwater

    It's all gone bloody mad. As someone concerned about plastic waste, decades before it was fashionable I do wish people would realise plastic is not the problem, it's a wonder material. Single use plastic, poorly disposed of is the problem.

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