Lego bricks last 1,300 years in the ocean

Hyperaxion Mar 16, 2020

UK researchers analyzed the toy’s resistance based on its chemical composition and mass. Conclusion: it lasts a long time and can become microplastic.

A piece of Lego can survive in the ocean for up to 1300 years, according to new research published in Environmental Pollution. The study, led by the University of Plymouth, UK, examined the toy’s strength based on its chemical composition and mass.

To conduct the research, 50 Lego bricks found on an English beach were washed and weighed. The pieces, originally made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), were chemically tested so that experts could determine their age.

“The pieces we tested had smoothed and discolored, with some of the structures having fractured and fragmented, suggesting that as well as pieces remaining intact, they might also break down into microplastics,” said Andrew Turner, one of the researchers, in a statement.

After the tests, scientists came to the conclusion that the Lego found was manufactured sometime between the 1970s and 1980s. This allowed them to deduce that, by the level of decomposition of the objects, they can last from 100 to 1300 years in the oceans.

One piece of lego intact and another found on the beach by the research team
One piece of lego intact and another found on the beach by the research team. (Credit: University of Plymouth).

“Lego is one of the most popular children’s toys in history and part of its appeal has always been its durability. It is specifically designed to be played with and handled, so it may not be especially surprising that despite potentially being in the sea for decades, it isn’t significantly worn down. However, the full extent of its durability was even a surprise to us,” noted Turner.

“But a Lego piece is very small,” one might argue. In fact, size may not be a big deal, but quantity is. According to the company that makes the toy, 75 billion pieces of Lego are sold every year. If we consider that some are correctly disposed of or reused, it is still estimated that there are 62 pieces of Lego for each person on the planet.

For experts, the toy’s durability and the long time it takes for the little pieces to disappear are a warning to humanity. “[Our study] emphasizes the importance of people disposing of used items properly to ensure that they do not cause potential problems to the environment,” said Turner.

On its website, LEGO recommends that anyone who wants to dispose of their toy parts, to donate to other people or a charity. The company also guarantees that products that do not meet the quality standards are not thrown away. “We can crush them to become new pieces,” says the company. Other measures adopted by the company are to use discarded materials to generate energy or, when the same model is made in large quantities, it is donated to charities around the world.

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