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Over the past six years, a team of more than 150 employees at Lego’s headquarters have tested hundreds of different plastic formulations as they worked toward the holy grail: a Lego brick made from recycled or renewable materials. In July, Lego announced a breakthrough, unveiling a prototype made from recycled PET plastic sourced from discarded bottles. Researchers ground the plastic into flakes and combined them with additives to strengthen the material so it had the “clutch power” that Lego pieces are known for (see the photo above). The company still has testing to do—like figuring out how to get the bricks the right color—but hopes to have them on the market within 18 to 24 months. The implications are massive for Lego, which last year generated nearly $7 billion in revenue. The company uses more than 100,000 tons of plastic in the 100 billion Lego “elements” (from bricks to little plastic people) it produces annually, and a single one-liter bottle can produce 10 two-by-four stud Lego pieces. The efforts are part of a broader commitment: Lego said in 2020 it would invest $400 million over three years in sustainability efforts. Single-use plastic bags are being phased out from its packaging, and flexible pieces are now made from a plastic derived from sustainably sourced sugarcane.  —Beth Kowitt
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