Lego is one of my all-time favourite toys. As a kid, I loved building and creating, and the blocks brought out the inner architect in me. As a parent, I was thrilled that my kids loved Lego, so I could buy as much as my budget would allow for them to play with, of course.
One of the awesome things about Lego is its indestructibility. We’ve all encountered just how indestructible it is when we’ve stepped on one of those little bricks in our sock feet. It can hurt like the dickens. But its durability has good and bad aspects to it. The good: the blocks always fit together perfectly, unlike Lego’s competitors’ blocks. The bad, once it ends up in landfill, it will be there pretty much forever. Eventually, most of us grow out of Lego, and while many of us will keep a few sets, most of it, unfortunately, will find its way to landfill, maybe not now — it might get put away for future grandchildren or get sold at garage sales — but sooner or later it will end up in the garbage.
why don’t they address the blocks they’ve already got in circulation?
I commend Lego for making a superior, high-quality product and for stimulating imagination in children (and adults). It is also right for them to look into an alternative brick, as I have read that Lego has budgeted up to $150 million to find an alternative to petroleum for its block. But while they are looking into building a better block, why don’t they address the blocks they’ve already got in circulation? It will cost them a lot less, and they may even be able to break even, or better yet, make money. Again, it’s all in how you think of the product; the typical business motto is “once it’s out of the factory, it’s no longer our responsibility.” That needs to change.
Is a Lego take-back program possible?
What if Lego organized a take-back program through its retailers? What if people were incentivized to bring their Lego back because the retailer offered them a discount coupon for anything in the store they sell?
If you’re in the retail business you’re probably thinking, “What a nightmare for the store! All that old and dirty Lego coming in! Where are they going to put it? What are they going to do with it? Who’s going to collect it? Isn’t Lego just going to dump it in the garbage? And the sorting! Who’s going to take care of that?” etc…
First of all, calm down. Take a deep breath. Now, when you’re ready, continue reading….
Real life examples of what might be termed “extended producer responsibility” already exist in the marketplace:
E-waste, now prohibited from landfill in many provinces across Canada, can be brought to retailers such as Best Buy. Third party shipping companies collect it and take it to warehouses where it is sorted and made ready to ship to various entities. We, the consumer pay for it with the addition of an environmental handling fee tacked on to new electronic products we buy.
Beer, liquor, and wine bottles:
In Ontario and Quebec, all beer bottles can be returned to The Beer Store (Ontario), or the grocery store, or convenience store in Quebec for a refund. It is a successful program that I have written about before. In Ontario between 98-99% of all beer bottles make it back to the beer store and are used, on average, 15 times before they are recycled.
This company collects old clothes and shoes through retailers such as American Eagle, H&M and Puma. They have donation boxes set up in retailers, you put your clothes in the box, it weighs them and spits out a coupon for that store. The company collects the clothes then takes them to a central warehouse, sorts them and either gives them away or sells them to secondhand clothing companies and vintage retailers. This is a for-profit business.
Could the model work for Lego?
In the case of Lego, a certain amount of space would have to be dedicated to its collection until it could be picked up. How much space would be determined by pilot studies. Trucks unloading merchandise for sale at the retail location could easily pick up old Lego collected at the store and take back to a central distribution point. It could be cleaned, sorted and rebundled for sale at discount stores, or donated to shelters, hospitals and even sent overseas. There are so many ways to spread Lego around without it ending up in landfill where it’s no use to anyone. If you doubt whether or not sorting is a possibility, take a look at The Crayon Initiative, by Brian Ware. They collect old crayons, melt them down and remould them into new ones to donate to hospitals. So it’s a model already in practice.
If you’re wondering from a business perspective if there’s a market for second hand Lego, just type “second hand Lego” into a search engine and you can see for yourself. Yes, there is a market.
As the manufacturer, why not collect what you’ve already made and reuse it and or resell it? It can make economic sense as well as environmental sense.