Everything isn’t awesome. simone mescolini/Shutterstock Legos just click. If you’ve ever played with a competing brand of “interlocking plastic bricks,” you know that Lego’s big advantage is their solidity, their seemingly infinitesimal tolerances that make sure every piece fits just so with every other. The seams turn invisible. The secret to that tight connection (and how painful Legos are to step on): plastic. Specifically, a very tough plastic called ABS, or acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene, three polymers derived from petroleum. So last month, Lego announced that it would launch, later this year or next, a Sustainable Materials Centre—100 engineers, chemical engineers, and materials experts all trying to find an eco-friendly replacement for ABS and other ingredients in the company’s toys. Finding those replacements will be tougher than getting a one-by-one piece off a wide base plate. (That’s hard.) ABS is great. It’s precisely moldable; every Lego block has to be identical to others of its type to within 4 microns, from batch to batch, year after year. ABS also takes color well, so a wall of red bricks looks the same across its entire surface. You can print on it, it’s durable—important for a toy that gets passed down through generations—and, most of all, ABS can create what Lego calls good “clutch” power, the ability to stick to other bricks until kids pull them apart. Plus, what does “sustainability” mean in this context? Right now, companies can define that word pretty much however they want. No carbon emissions cutoff exists to qualify a material—and even if one did, it’s notoriously difficult to tally up those emissions. A sustainable material could be renewable or recyclable or both (or neither). Read the rest at Wired.
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