Lego debuted its first bricks made from recycled plastic bottles in an effort to build toys with more sustainable materials

prototype LEGO bricks made from PET plastic from recycled bottles
  • Lego debuted its first prototype brick made from recycled plastic bottles.
  • This is the first Lego made from recycled materials to meet Lego’s quality and safety standards.
  • On average, the plastic of a one-liter PET bottle is enough to make 10 two-by-four Legos.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Lego has turned plastic bottles into its iconic bricks in a push to use more sustainable materials.

The Danish toy maker unveiled its first prototype brick to be made from recycled plastic on Wednesday. This is the first Lego made from recycled material to meet the company’s quality, safety, and play standards.

The prototype is made using PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic from discarded bottles. On average, a one-liter PET plastic bottle supplies enough raw material to make 10 2-by-4 Legos.

Hundreds of plastic formulations have been tested for use in Lego bricks over the past three years, according to a company press release.

“We want our products to have a positive impact on the planet, not just with the play they inspire, but also with the materials we use,” said Tim Brooks, Lego’s vice president of environmental responsibility, in the release. “The biggest challenge on our sustainability journey is rethinking and innovating new materials that are as durable, strong and high quality as our existing bricks – and fit with LEGO elements made over the past 60 years.”

Lego will keep experimenting with the use of PET plastic before determining whether to start piloting production of these bricks. The next stage of testing will likely take at least a year, the release says.

The recycled PET plastic that goes into the prototype comes from US suppliers that use processes approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the European Food Safety Authority. Strengthening additives are combined with the plastic to increase its durability.

The company’s broader push towards sustainability includes the 2018 launch of Lego elements made from plastic sourced from sugarcane. Last year, the company announced it will phase out single-use plastics from its boxes in an effort to make all of its packaging sustainable by 2025. The company also plans to invest up to $400 million in sustainability efforts over three years. Lego also hopes to send zero waste to landfills by 2025.

Lego defines a sustainable material as one that is “responsibly produced, using renewable or recycled resources, generating little or no waste, use sustainable chemistry and be fully recyclable at the end of its life.”

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How waste solutions company Brightmark is converting plastic waste into fuel

  • Waste solutions company Brightmark is converting plastic waste into fuel at its plant in Indiana.
  • The company is aiming to process 100,000 tons of plastic next year, its first year of full-time operation.
  • Studies show that by 2050, there will be more plastic waste in the ocean than fish – a trend Brightmark hopes to reverse.
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Milk cartons, Styrofoam cups, grocery store bags – a new plant in Ashley, Indiana, wants them all.

Brightmark‘s facility is the first of its kind in the US. It converts plastic waste into wax and eco-friendly fuels on a commercial scale, a process Brightmark hopes will revolutionize the plastic industry when it opens full time in 2021.

“We take a whole array of mixed waste that, until now, was not easily recyclable and reusable, and create circular economy solutions to some of our biggest environmental issues,” founder and CEO Bob Powell told Business Insider Today.

In its initial year, the plant will process close to 100,000 tons of plastic – about the weight of 600 blue whales – from waste management companies, manufacturers, and environmental groups.

The full conversion process is a company secret, but it begins with breaking bales of plastic apart, then shredding the plastic into small pellets.

“We’ve got employees that are basically refinery operators,” plant manager Jason Sasse added. “So they take the plastic pellet and they convert that into our finished products.”

Finished products include ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, and companies like BP are already placing orders.

“The BPs of the world, who’ve been very forward-thinking and are looking to a net carbon-zero future, find our products to be really helpful,” Powell said. “And it’s much better than pulling crude oil out of the ground to make diesel.”

Brightmark hopes to process 100,000 tons of plastic in its first year of operation.

Critics of plastics-to-fuel technology say these types of plants can release harmful emissions of their own when plastic is heated during conversion – not to mention diesel’s own contribution to air pollution.

But Brightmark argues that its method is still better than what’s happening now.

Studies show that if the global plastic industry continues as it is, then by 2050 there will be more plastic waste in the ocean than fish.

“We need to change this, and it all starts right here in Ashley,” Powell told Business Insider Today. “So that by 2050, we can look back and say we changed the course of this issue we had with plastics.”

Similar companies are already operating in Europe and Asia. Before now, access to materials, the price of equivalent fuels, and operational costs have stopped them from reaching their potential in the US.

Brightmark is hoping it’s solved this equation. Demand for its solutions is high, and the company plans to build more plants across the country.

“We’ve had literally almost thousands of communities say, ‘We would like for you to help solve the plastic problem in our community,'” Powell said.

“The day that we ran out of plastics to put into our facilities would be a great day, because it means we’ve changed the waste problem in the world.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in October 2020.

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A biotech company is making vegan bacon, leather, and a Styrofoam-like packaging out of lab-grown mushrooms

  • Ecovative Design is making eco-friendly products like plant-based meat and imitation leather out of mycelium, the root structures of mushrooms.
  • It also makes packaging material that could replace Styrofoam, which takes up one-third of all landfill space.
  • The company has raised $100 million in capital and is part of a $4 billion meat-alternative market.
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Why I’m throwing away every plastic thing in my kitchen ASAP

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: There’s been a lot of buzz about dubious chemicals in the environment that might contribute to some pretty frightening stuff like obesity, breast cancer, thyroid issues. And they seem to lurk everywhere: in pesticides, cosmetics, and especially plastic packaging. In light of this, it’s understandable to start panicking. But before you do, let’s hear what molecular biologist Bruce Blumberg has to say on the subject. He’s been studying the link between synthetic chemicals and obesity for around 15 years. So he might be able to give us a better idea of what’s really going on and what to do about it.

Bad news is, Blumberg confirmed that, yep, we’re surrounded by these chemicals. One of the most well known is BPA, or Bisphenol A, which shows up in water bottles, cans, milk cartons, and more.

Bruce Blumberg: You get them from thermal paper receipts. Like I have, I have these receipts from a recent trip. All of these things are coated with Bisphenol A. It goes right into your skin.

Narrator: BPA has been making headlines for years about whether or not it’s harming us. And while FDA-funded and independent studies have conflicting conclusions, the bigger heart of the issue is this: BPA is hard to get away from because it’s a key building block in the tough, clear, flexible plastic called polycarbonate. And that proximity to food is what concerns scientists like Blumberg.

Bruce Blumberg: You don’t want to store food in plastics because some fraction of those plastics will leach into your food.

Narrator: The BPA molecules that make up plastic are bound together by what’s called an ester bond, which is extremely sensitive to heat. So when you heat up your food in plastic, that heat breaks some of the bonds, releasing the chemicals into your food. A survey by the CDC of 2,517 people estimated that over 90% of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their urine. And BPA isn’t alone. Phthalates, which make plastic flexible, can also leach into food when heated.

And reviews of hundreds of studies have linked BPA and phthalates to heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes. Not to mention a 2015 review linked phthalates with impaired neurological development in children, which in 2018 prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to announce that families should avoid plastic food containers entirely. And other studies on animals, like mice and monkeys, have shown that these chemicals can lead to problems in the lungs, brains, and reproductive organs.

This is about the time someone like me would probably panic. But there are ways you can avoid these chemicals. Blumberg suggests it’s best to just stick to heating your food in anything but plastic. Now, quick aside, BPA-free plastic containers aren’t the answer because research suggests that BPS and BPF, the most common replacements for BPA, might have similar effects on your body. Instead, opt for replacements like ceramic or glass containers.

Bruce Blumberg: You have to do the best you can, and it makes sense to me to do the things that give you the most return for the least effort.

Narrator: And here’s the best part. Once you reduce exposure, those chemicals slowly leave your body. As Blumberg says, they’re stored in fat cells, which eventually die and ultimately leave your system.

Bruce Blumberg: Don’t stress about it, right? Do your best and make conscious choices to improve things.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2019.

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A Mexican company is turning leftover avocado pits into biodegradable silverware

  • Last year, Americans consumed over 6 billion avocados, leaving behind tons of inedible pits that turn into food waste. 
  • The Mexican company Biofase converts around 130 tons of avocado seeds a month into forks, knives, spoons, and straws.
  • The company claims its bioplastic food products have a lower carbon footprint than any other comparable material – even paper.
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