Most of us grew up playing with Lego’s iconic bricks. Whether you liked the structured designs of Lego kits or just letting your imagination run wild with a box of random multi-colored bricks, legos made childhood awesome.
Lego was founded all the way back in 1932, making it nearly a century old. During the company’s long life, parents have passed Legos down to their children, and even their children’s children. This may highlight the durability of a Lego brick, but it also draws attention to a problem that’s plagued Lego for decades—sustainability.
The over 60 billion plastic Lego pieces the company has produced will inevitably end up in landfills, polluting waterways, and damaging marine ecosystems. But what if Legos weren’t made of conventional petroleum-based plastic? Can we make Legos from a more sustainable material, like hemp?
Lego’s Plans For The Future
Lego is aware of its environmental impact and has made some efforts to try and curtail the damage the company does to the planet. This includes sizable investments in renewable energy and a commitment to finding a sustainable alternative to their current plastic bricks by 2030.
Recently, a photo started making rounds on the internet claiming that the Lego company would begin pivoting to hemp plastic in the next decade. While this turned out to be just another internet hoax, it got us thinking: why should Lego switch to hemp plastic?
What Is Hemp Plastic?
Hemp is an extremely sustainable plant. It doesn’t require excessive irrigation techniques to grow, and it’s one of the best crops in the world when it comes to sequestering carbon.
Here at E1011, we often extol the benefits of hemp’s therapeutic molecules like terpenes and cannabinoids, but these aren’t the only valuable compounds found in the plant. Hemp is almost 70% cellulose—the organic molecule that comprises the cell walls found in plants.
Thanks to advancements in science in engineering, we can transform the cellulose found in hemp into a sustainable plastic alternative. We call these eco-friendly cellulose-based plastics bioplastics, and we already commonly use them as replacements for disposable items like straws, bottles, and packaging materials.
Is Hemp Plastic Biodegradable?
One of the biggest problems with conventional plastics is how long they take to degrade. A single plastic water bottle could sit in a landfill or float in the ocean for nearly 500 years before finally decomposing. Plus, because plastic is typically made from petroleum, it will release carbon into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming when it finally does break down.
In comparison, hemp bioplastic degrades in just a few short months, is infinitely recyclable, and since it’s not a fossil fuel, it won’t release more carbon into the atmosphere.
How To Make Hemp Plastic
The first step in hemp plastic manufacturing is to separate the cellulose from the rest of the plant material. This starts by pulping the hemp, then either soaking the material in a solution or using extreme heat and pressure to extract the cellulose.
From there, manufacturers can convert hemp into a variety of different bioplastics, including:
Hemp Cellulose: a completely organic polymer with a wide array of commercial applications.
Cellophane: the thin plastic film used to seal leftovers and create eco-friendly disposable packaging options
Composite Hemp Plastics: a combination of hemp cellulose and other polymers which may be natural or synthetic.
Benefits Of Hemp Plastic
Replacing conventional plastics with hemp bioplastics would have immense benefits for the planet and the creatures that inhabit it.
Most glaringly, hemp plastic’s biodegradability makes it a phenomenal plastic alternative. We produce over 300 million tons of plastic in a single year, and all that plastic has to go somewhere. Whether it’s in a landfill or the ocean, conventional petroleum-based plastic takes hundreds of years to degrade. If we continue at this pace, ocean plastic will outweigh all marine life as soon as 2050.
Plus, conventional plastic can leach toxic chemicals into our food and into the soil—exposure to which can lead to severe health conditions like asthma and cancer. With hemp bioplastic, this isn’t a concern.
Our planet is facing a bona fide plastic crisis. If we don’t do something to change our current trajectory, the effects could be apocalyptic. Using hemp plastic to satisfy a larger portion of our plastic reliance could be instrumental in keeping this planet habitable for future generations. Perhaps Lego will lay the first brick in creating a sustainable future by making the switch to hemp.