A couple of years ago, LEGO Announced that it was going to try and move more of its stuff to a sustainable infrastructure. Energy in its HQ and offices was the first move, but at the beginning of the month, they made the more interesting move to announce that they were introducing a new material into the bricks themselves.
The move is to use a Polyethylene plastic derived from sugarcane. It’s a softer plastic that we’ve seen used in plants for ages (as well as some minifigure heads and features, the softer wedges, etc). It’s an interesting move, though obviously the main question will be do they feel and work the same? The press released linked lets out a small fact that the types of elements targeted make up 1-2% of the full product line. While that number sounds small, they ship nearly 20 billion parts a year and that adds up to almost 400 million pieces. That’s a whole lot of sugar.
Anything else about LEGO aside, they are sticklers for a certain level of quality and use in their bricks… I have to imagine they tested this out a lot before making the jump to something new.Â From a technical perspective, it should be identical, but chemical processes are fascinating and strange and there could not be foreseen. What I’d be curious about is how do they hold up over the long term, years or even decades after they were manufactured.
The actual press release is pretty interesting, since they are a lot more up-front on some details that I usually rail on, like how “sustainable” isn’t a standard term, it’s usually more marketing than actual stuff. But they also say what they mean by it, which is cool. I rag on LEGO a lot these days, but this seems like a genuinely good step.
What minifig heads are made from PE? I know plants, many bladed weapons, a few animals, anything with a living hinge, and so on are made of PE. And there should be zero difference between oil-based and plant-based PE parts. They’re not extracting PE from the plant itself. They’re extracting ethanol, which is a very specific molecule. It’s either ethanol, or it’s not.
PE, like ABS, has a formula. You can tweak the formula to get different qualities, just like they’ve done with ABS (European ABS has a proprietary formula that has the specific qualities they want, and Chinese ABS has a different formula whose desired property is keeping the other formula out of Chinese hands). So, since the ethanol you start with should be identical, unless you pointedly change the formula, your PE should be indistinguishable from what came before.
The soft heads used on a handful of things like Kit Fisto, a couple of the PotC figures, etc. There are a handful of soft figure heads that were much more detailed than the standard heads.
Kit Fisto has a rubber head, not PE. Looking through the entire PotC minifig category on Bricklink, every single minifig uses a standard minifig head. Davy Jones and Blackbeard both have gigantic beards, and at least Davy Jones’ beard is PE. Maccus’ sharkhead hat and Hadras’ shell hat are both ABS. There might be a few of the fishy characters from Atlantis that have PE “heads”, but the ones that come to mind have heads that are technically hats that fit over standard minifig heads. And that may explain _why_ they did that finally. Standard minifig heads are all either ABS or polycarbonate, both of which have strong clutch power. Molded heads can be ABS, polycarbonate (Crystal Skull skulls) or rubber, and rubber makes up for any reduced clutch power with increased clinginess. PE has less clutch power, and is far more easily damaged than any of the other three materials, so rather than subject PE to being attached to a small neck peg, they may have a rule in place that any PE heads have to be converted to hats.
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