In a move to become more sustainable, the Danish toy manufacturing firm, Lego, has announced that it will start making its plastic toys from plant-based materials. The company announced that ethanol extracted from Brazilian sugarcane will be used to manufacture its plastic toy trees and bushes.
While these pieces only account for a tiny portion of Lego’s total production (there are thousands of unique pieces in Lego’s inventory), it is a step in the right direction. Other toy manufacturers should follow suit, searching for more sustainable methods of production.
Is plant-based plastic really sustainable?
Critics will be quick to point out that plastic made from plants actually isn’t that sustainable. Although these plastics are not made from non-renewable fossil fuels, the farming methods and the process of growing the sugarcane uses a lot of natural resources. The massive amounts of space and water required to farm sugarcane, along with the need for pesticides and synthetic fertiliser, make it a costly process for the environment.
Furthermore, these types of plant-based plastics are recyclable but not biodegradable – they won’t break down entirely once discarded. This means that despite being an alternative source to oil-based plastic, the plant-based material does not offer a solid solution to our growing pollution concerns.
A step in the right direction
Despite the pitfalls of plant-based plastics, the fact that a global toy manufacturer such as Lego has made plans to shift its production methods represents a shift in our current mindset. This announcement will also lead to more innovative solutions to our plastic waste problems and more research being conducted into other materials.
It has opened the door for toy manufacturers to start exploring more sustainable ways of producing products, such as using recycled plastic or biodegradable alternatives. Producing plant-based plastic toys has a much lower carbon footprint than oil-based plastic due to the plants using carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Lego intends to use more sustainable sources of sugarcane and ethanol for its initiative, exploring new avenues and industries to find a better solution. Possible solutions include; producing ethanol by growing algae or harvesting the gas from coffee production plants and household waste.
To find a truly sustainable source of plastic, new manufacturing methods need to be developed. To be sustainable, a product’s entire life-cycle and environmental conditions for production must be taken into account. Lego needs to ensure that it’s regular oil-based pieces are recycled properly or replaced with a more-easily recyclable material.
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