LEGO Vice President of Corporate Responsibility Tim Brooks reveals that the LEGO Group is thinking about what happens to bricks that are at the end of their usable life – and AFOLs will help the company find a solution.
Vice President of Corporate Responsibility Tim Brooks is the leader at the LEGO Group responsible for pushing the company towards it ambitious sustainability goals – by 2030, the aim is to have all LEGO elements made from sustainable materials.
One thing that the LEGO Group has made clear is that new pieces made from sustainable materials – such as the ‘plants from plants’ bio-based elements introduced in 2018 – are not any more recyclable than regular pieces. The goal is that the new pieces will be just as durable and long-lasting as traditional bricks.
‘When people ask us, “why don’t you just recycle LEGO bricks?” We say, “no, we don’t want to use recycled LEGO bricks, we want you to reuse them”,’ Tim says. ‘Don’t just go down that route without using it is right until the end of its practical life. We’re trying to promote reuse rather than recycling of LEGO bricks.’
To make sure LEGO bricks are reused rather than thrown away, the company has launched Replay in the USA. It allows people to send their own bricks to the LEGO Group, with the company then cleaning them up and sending them out to organisations who can give play opportunities to children who might otherwise not get them.
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That doesn’t mean that Tim and his team are not thinking about when LEGO bricks need to be recycled though: ‘We know bricks will have an end of life, how do we collect them back? What are the role of third parties to collect them back? I mean, bricks are technically recyclable. And they are recyclable in some jurisdictions, and in some areas, but plastic recycling is patchy across the world. That’s something we’re working on.
‘We want to push forward more onto that end of life and it will be more relevant for you guys [AFOLs] and the people who you engage with, because you’re naturally much more heavy users of bricks. So you’ll see that end of life earlier, and I think we would want you guys along on that journey as well. You know, when do you see the end of life of bricks? What would what do you do with them? What do you think we should do with them? I think we definitely like to open that conversation up.’
For Tim, sustainability is his entire raison d’être at the LEGO Group – so he’s no stranger to how the company needs to adapt in order to become more environmentally friendly. But finding more support than ever from consumers and colleagues is something he finds gratifying:
‘I would say, in the last five years that we’re now getting thousands of letters from adult fans, from kids, sometimes saying, “great, we were really happy about plants from plants” or whatever. But also, challenging us, saying, “we want you to do more, we want you to remove single use plastic, we want you to use more recycled material, we want you to design more sustainable theme sets”. So it’s massively important.
‘Also in the company, I think we just see it even more from our employees. I got a call the other day, we’ve just built a new parking house outside our new campus office – we got a call from head of facilities. And he’s like, “right, how do I cover this parking house in solar panels?”. I didn’t have to ask him to do that or persuade him to do it. He was like, “how do I do it? I’m ready to do it. I’ve got the money. Let’s do this together”. And I think that was one of those signs that sustainability is becoming truly embedded in this company, when people are actively doing it on their own.’