If the Lego constructions existed in the 8th century and someone had thrown a brick of the famous game into the sea today we could still find that piece stranded on the beach. So, if you throw a Lego block into the ocean, next summer, it is possible that someone will find it on the sea bed in the year 3320.
A study conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Plymouth (UK) and published in the journal Environmental Pollution estimates that Lego bricks can 'survive' in the ocean between 100 and 1,300 years.
For the purposes of their research, the team of scientists used some Lego blocks collected from beach clean-ups in England. Among other things, they measured the mass and size of the bricks and examined the chemical changes in them.
In particular, 50 pieces, made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), were used and weighed in the university's laboratories. The chemical characteristics of each block were determined using an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, in order to determine the exact 'age' of each particular block, based on the presence of certain elements that are no longer used.
"By combining these objects with others acquired in the 1970s and 1980s that have not been subjected to the influence of climate, the researchers have been able to identify the level of wear and tear and, as a result, calculate how long Lego parts could last in the marine environment," said the University of Plymouth.
"Lego is one of the most popular children's toys ever and part of its appeal has always been its durability. It is specifically designed for play and handling, so it may not be particularly surprising that, despite potentially being at sea for decades, it has not worn significantly," the researchers say. "However, the full extent of its durability was even a surprise to us," they acknowledge.
Small fish, no thanks
Another detail they discovered while conducting their study is that some Lego pieces, in addition to softening and discolouring, also fractured and broke into pieces, suggesting that some blocks could be broken down and transformed into microplastics.
"Once again it is important for people to dispose of used items properly to ensure that they do not pose potential problems for the environment," they insist. Previous studies indicate that many of these Lego pieces may have been lost during children's playground visits or may have entered the environment through the household waste process.
Lego would be no stranger to the problem of plastic for the oceans. The toy company is working to make its bricks from sustainable sources or materials by 2030. With that ambitious goal in mind, the firm has experimented with pieces based on polyethene from sugar cane, although these would not be biodegradable. It will not be easy for Lego to find a new material that is ecological but also preserves the durability of its famous bricks.