At the recent Recognised LEGO® Fan Media Days, we were treated to a presentation by the sustainability team with regard to progress being made on their various programs. The first part if the presentation was from Therese Noorlander, Senior Director of Sustainability Engagement. She spoke about some of the history of sustainability withing the LEGO Group – taking it back to the the Great Yo-Yo Craze of the 1930s: when the craze ended, leaving the company with boxes of unsold yo-yos, they were cut in half and used as wheels for toy wooden trucks, through to the ongoing research with regard to finding a sustainable material to use for plastic bricks. Most of this information has been published previously, and can be found on the LEGO Group’s sustainability website.
However, some of the most exciting news, not previously covered elsewhere, came from Anne Boye Møller, who for the past four years has been the Project Lead for the sustainable prepack. She works with a team based in Denmark and the Czech Republic and was proud to announce that the first generation packing lines are ready to go, and some of the first SKUs(sets) have been packed using these paper bags.
There are a number of considerations that have gone towards producing the paper packing bags:
- There are two main designs of bags: one is designed to stand up, while the other is a more standard ‘pillow type design. The bags have been designed to take up essentially the same amount of space as plastic bags in the boxes – eliminating the need to change the dimensions of existing packages. The pillow bags are particularly used for those small parts enclosed in another bag.
- The equipment for changing the production lines has been rolled out into functioning factories, and has not required any expansion of the existing buildings to modify the production lines. And indeed, changing over a factories equipment without holding up production is no mean feat. But, updating all of the packaging equipment in all of the factories is a big job, that will take time.
- During testing, families , and especially kids, were excited to see that the internal bags were made of paper, rather than plastic
- There are graphics on the bags, so that they are more engaging than plain bags, and in testing it was found that the numbers on bags were better recognised by kids than when they were printed on plasic bags. Now – these numbers don’t appear on all sets. With the smaller Creator 3in1 sets, these numbers are not printed on the bag, as different models require parts form seperate bags.
- Over the course of the last few years, they have tested a collection of different papers, and paramount in that experience has been ensuring that bags are strong enough to withstand impacts, without the elements damaging the bag. We will come back to this later.
- Paramount in the choice of paper has been that it needs to be recyclable – a fact which has meant that a plastic resealing zip-lock strip will not be included in these bags.
- The ‘stand up bag’ design is such as to ensure that pieces do not get stuck inside – a problem many of us have experienced over the years with small parts in plastic bags.
Now, what about the change on the front of the instructions that we have seen this second half year? These instructions feature a background similar to that printed on the bags, with a rendered image of the set in front: It turns out that this has been done to reduce ink transfer from the instructions, to the paper bags, as the rub against each other in transport. So, aiming to reduce damage to the printing on the front of the instructions, and keeping the paper bags cleaner after transport. Previously, this explaination had been cut short, and as such, I felt a that the story was a little bit of smoke and mirrors. I can appreciate why this approach has been taken, but it does not change my opinion about a looming digital instructions end game in the future.
Stress Testing the Bags.
We were given a copy of 31111 Cyberdrone, as one of the first sets containing paper bags to roll off the production line.
The presentation of the box has changed as well: here is the side of the original version, packed in 2020:
And here is the new edge, with recycling information applying to the new bags (image courtesy of Jays Brick Blog, and used with permission – my box got screwed up before photographing):
This new box also features ‘punch out’ rather than taped sealing.
Here are the bags, as they came out of the box:
I presume the 6434646/6421412 codes both refer to the ‘picking list’ used for each bag, while 332S2 and 232S2 mean the bags were packed on days 2 and 3 of week 32 in 2022 (August 9 and 10, 2022), at the Kladno factory, in the Czech Republic.
Scanning the data matrix with a reader app yielded the following information:
- 6434646 232S2 12903759 from the smaller bag, and
- 6421412 332S2 12905307 on the larger.
I presume the last number is further sequential batch information, in the case of quality issues.
Stress Test#1: Unboxed and Unprotected In An Overstuffed Suitcase
Now initially, the box was pristine- straight from its shipping box, but I had a problem: I was given this after travelling around Norway and Denmark for over two weeks previously, and I had the chance to pick a few things up at the Skaerbaek Fan Weekend as well as the LEGO House. And some more shopping: my luggage was rapidly running out of space.
So, rather than hope for an intact box on arriving home, I did what many seasoned International LEGO Shoppers do: I threw the box out, and threw the bags into my luggage. A handy property of these bags is that you can easily write on them.
I got the bags home, and they were decidedly crinkled compared with way they looked fresh out of the box, all those days ago, but they were intact. I was grateful that the bags did not split open during my subsequent travels, which included a number of baggage transfers on the way home
Both bags are able to stand up on their ends, and were quite stable.
I took the larger bag and tore it open: it was a really satisfying feel, as the top ripped off.
Stress Test #2: Soaking in Water
What about water damage? In regional Australia at the moment, floods are a problem, andover the years, many an AFOL has reported their elements keeping clean, while the cardboard box around them dissolves under the onslaught of flood waters.
So, I put the smaller bag in a bowl of water, and submerged it using a weight. Ten and a half hours later, I removed it.
The paper bag was soaked through, but it did not fall apart in my hands – it took a small effort to tear, but it was strong enough to preferentially tear along the perforations. The bag contained some water, which tipped out with the parts, which were wet! After closer inspection of the bag, it was apparent that there is a thin plastic membrane on the inside of the bag, which helps the bag to be able to be sealed on the production line.
According to the Recycling page on the LEGO Sustainability pages ,
Bags in LEGO boxes
We are in the process of switching from single-use plastic to paper-based bags. While our boxes currently still feature bags made from polypropylene (PP) or low-density polyethylene (LDPE), we will be gradually replacing them with bags made from >95% paper with a thin plastic coating on the inside, which enables sealing of the bags and ensures that they are fit-for purpose to hold LEGO® and LEGO DUPLO® bricks.
Our new paper-based bags are made with paper from Forest Stewardship Council® certified forests and FSC controlled wood and have been certified as recyclable in the European Union, United States and Canada.
Although recyclable through paper recycling systems in many places, we encourage people to check with their local authorities for information on how to correctly dispose of our paper-based bags.
Overall, these new bags have been designed to withstand some of the unexpected abuse that does befall LEGO Products from time to time: they are certainly strong enough to survive an overstuffed suitcase after removal from the box. However, I would probably use a larger bag to contain the paper bags if I was deboxing a larger set, such as a modular building, where there were thousands of elements at stake.
As far as being soaked in water: the bag keeps its form and function, but is weakened with water damage. The perforations do allow water to enter, and the bag is easier tear afterwards. Unfortunately, I suspect that any silt present in floodwaters is likely to enter the bags as well, so while bags are likely to hold onto their contents, LEGO Elements will need to be cleaned before use.
I feel the bags are fit for purpose for the majority of us – they might not be as water resistant as the current plastic bags, but I feel they do the job for which they are intended, bringing the company towards its sustainability goals. I am excited to see these bags beginning to roll off the production lines, and I expect we will see more and more appear as we reach the 2025 deadline for eliminating single use plastics.
There are a few lingering questions, particularly regarding the thin plastic lining in the bag: is it recyclable in all markets? Is it sourced from plant based plastics? Is it a ‘cop out’ with regard to eliminating single use plastics?
How do you feel about the shift towards these paper bags? Excited, or concerned? Why not leave you comments below, and until next time,
The paper bags reviewed in this article were part of a set provided by the LEGO Group for Review Purposes. All opinions are my own.