LEGO Environmental Responsibility VP Tim Brooks and Sustainable Materials Director Anne Boyle-Møller explain why paper bags will replace plastic bags and when fans might start to find them
The LEGO Group recently announced that the company is trialling paper bags in LEGO sets, rather than the clear plastic bags that fans are accustomed to. It’s a change that is part of the company’s wider sustainability drive, which is targeting 2025 as the year when all LEGO packaging will be sustainable.
Vice President of Environmental Responsibility Tim Brooks sat down with LEGO community representatives and journalists to discuss the new packaging and how his team landed on paper bags.
“The first part of that project was to say we know the bags are plastic and we know they are single use. What we are really trying to focus on is using plastic when it is in a durable application, a high quality application and a reusable application. For us, the point there is that the bags were not reusable and were not easily recyclable,” said Tim, explaining why his team decided to remove plastic bags.
“We looked at recycled plastic films, but again the same challenge with recycling, we looked at bio based films, which creates the same challenge there as well, we looked at paper made from stone… we looked at a whole range of different materials and sometimes the simplest answer is the best and we came right back to paper.”
It’s not just recycling the bags when they are finished with that the company has been looking at. There are even plans for the new paper bags to be intended for reuse.
“One of the trials is to try and make the bag as reusable as possible, so you can roll the top of the bag down and refill it, that’s one of the things we are continuing to work on and test and trial. That might be some of the info we get back from this trial. The reusability is something where we can obviously reduce our environmental impact.”
Naturally there is a question about whether using paper really is much an improvement on plastic, given the larger carbon footprint.
“We did a deep life cycle assessment comparing plastic and paper, the pros and cons,” Tim explains. “It is actually quite a finely balanced calculation, and it can depend on a lot of factors. There is a slight carbon increase on paper … but I think our aim longer term is we continue with our carbon mitigation programs to account for that and that’s across our own operations but also longer term we’ll look to offset some of that.
“And we’re looking at options for how we make up for the increase of increased paper and board. The impact goes somewhere, that’s fair to say. When you choose paper it’s not like your environmental impact disappears. It’s beneficial at the end of life because of that recycling point.
“All of the paper will be FSC certified so that means it comes from a sustainably managed forest.”
When queried on the FSC standard, Tim acknowledged that all of these measures are part of a journey to improved sustainability rather than an endpoint. “I don’t think anyone should go into this and say a perfect standard exists. It is one step on a journey, the supply chain of the paper and board.”
Paper bags won’t be used for blind bag products, such as Collectible Minifigures, anytime soon. “We have tested minifigures in paper bags and we believe that the paper quality is not strong enough to be handled in the shops, so we are looking into alternatives for that,” said Sustainable Materials Director Anne Boyle-Møller.
They will be trialled from the beginning of 2021 though. “We will do five SKUs across different themes,” she confirmed. The five sets will be from different ranges.
“The reason why we go across themes is that we have different challenges, depending on if it’s a Star Wars box then we have these kind of elements that we need to test, if it’s a City or a Friends we have these kind of elements.
“I cannot tell you right now which SKUs we are talking about, but it’s very small, it will be between 1 and 5% of the total yearly volume of such a SKU that we’ll try out.”
While most fans won’t come across these trial boxes, those who do will not necessarily find the exact same type of bags inside.
“You will see different tests, so some products will have white paper, some will have unbleached paper to see the differences. We have two main designs, we have what we call a pillow bag design for the smaller bags then we have expandable bag design for the larger bags.”
These paper bags are the most immediate change coming from the LEGO Group to make the packaging more sustainable, but there will likely be more in the future as the sustainability team finds new ways to improve the company’s environmental impact.