Could LEGO toys soon be made from hemp plastics?

Written By Emily Gray Brosious Posted: 02/25/2016, 07:55am

What is Legos were made with hemp instead of plastic?
(Photo credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

LEGO is looking for a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastic. Hemp might be the answer.

LEGO wants to switch the material it uses to make its trademark toy bricks beloved by children around the world. The company currently uses plastic resin (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), but by 2030 it wants to be using a more environmentally conscious and cost-effective material, according to a Plastics News report.

LEGO senior project manager Allan Rasmussen told Plastics News that the new material must be able to form bricks that are indistinguishable from current plastic-made bricks.



“I need to find a material that is just as good as this one,” Rasmussen said. “I need to find a material that will be just as good in 50 years, because these are passed down from generation to generation.”

Enter hemp plastics

Hemp is a cannabis plant, a cousin to marijuana, that’s grown with very low THC levels and used primarily for its fiber and seeds. Hemp can be also be processed into a biodegradable plastic material that’s stronger than fiberglass.

Henry Ford himself used hemp plastics to construct car doors and fenders in 1941. Ford is recorded on video using a sledgehammer to demonstrate the superior strength of his hemp-made cars to steel-bodied cars, as reported by Hemp.com.

Making plastic with hemp

Petroleum cellulose acts as the basic building block for the majority of plastics used around the world today. But plastics can actually be made from the cellulose of numerous organic compounds, including plants like hemp.

Hemp actually makes an ideal base material for manufacturing plastic because of its high cellulose content, which ranges between 70-85 percent, according to Hemp Plastics.

Hemp offers a cost-efficient and biodegradable plastic material, not like petroleum-based plastics. A standard petroleum-plastic water bottle is estimated to take 450-1000 years to biodegrade.

Hemp plastic innovations

Cannabis prohibition more or less erased hemp’s industrial potential for generations, but policy reforms across the world are slowly starting to change that.

An Australian company named Zeoform has been working to advance biodegradable hemp technologies in recent years, and now the company boasts a new type of super-sturdy plastic made entirely from hemp, as reported by Leaf Science.

The material can be injection or blown-molded into countless products ranging from buttons to drinking straws, home furniture, frisbees, even toy building blocks.

Per Hemp.com:

The possibilities are endless with hemp plastics and resins, and bio-composites. Virtually any shape and purpose can be fulfilled by bio-composite plastics. Hemp plastics are already on the rise, it is only a matter of time before we will see the need to grow hemp in the United States to meet our demands.

Back to LEGO

LEGO uses more than 6,000 tons of petroleum plastic to make its bricks every year; and it’s been making them since 1960, according to Plastics News. That’s a lot of toxic, nonbiodegradable material.

Hemp might just be the cost effective, environmentally sustainable alternative material that LEGO is looking for.

And because hemp is not a primary food crop, LEGO wouldn’t be criticized of using food to make toys, which has been a concern.






FutureWorld (FWDG), a Delaware corporation, is a leading incubator of advanced technologies and solutions to the global cannabis industry. FutureWorld focuses on the identification, acquisition, development, and commercialization of cannabis related portfolio companies. FutureWorld, through its portfolios, provides personal and professional THC and CBD test kits, pharmaceutical grade CBD oil solutions, SafeVape vaporizers, smart sensor technology, communication network, surveillance security, data analysis for smart cultivation and consultation for the industrial hemp and legal medicinal cannabis. Our wireless agricultural smart sensor networks offer precision to the agriculture, irrigation systems, and greenhouses for the global cannabis and hemp industry.



Why Hemp Could Be The Future Of Plastics

Leslie Bocskor, investment banker and president of cannabis advisory firm Electrum Partners, is one of the most passionate people in the cannabis industry Benzinga has come across. In a recent chat, Benzinga asked him to discuss a topic he was passionate about, an issue he found particularly interesting.

The Rise Of A Hemp-Ire

Bocskor recently became fascinated with hemp. Not cannabis, but good old-fashioned hemp, the kind that was used to make fabrics in the nineteenth century.

“I have been talking to some scientists and there is a conversation about hemp for plastic,” he began, pointing out that Henry Ford — Ford Motor Company F 1.27% — had built one of his first cars using hemp plastic. In fact, that car even ran on hemp fuel.

“This could potentially create the largest carbon-negative industry in the world,” he continued.

But, what does carbon negative even mean?

Nowadays, most plastics are hydrocarbon-based, which means they use fossil petrochemicals pulled out of the Earth to be made. Leaving any discussions about climate change, global warming and carbon emissions aside, it does not take much scientific knowledge to understand why the process of making plastics out of petrochemicals implies pollution.

Hemp plastic, on the other hand, is extremely useful or convenient for several reasons, Bocskor went on.

1. “I’m told it doesn’t have any of the ‘ene’s.’ Toluene, benzene, things like that, which are the most toxic byproducts of plastics that are produced from hydrocarbons.”

2. “I’m told that hemp can be engineered for biodegrade that will reduce it into much less harmful compounds than the ones that can be done with hydrocarbon-based plastics.”

3. “We can have fields, acres and acres, hectares of hemp farms that are pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere – as plants do. Then, that carbon from the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere gets used to make the plastics, and the plastics, when they are going into a landfill and they are no longer usable, will biodegrade bringing carbon back into the soil [anecdotal data and initial research have suggested]. So, it’s essentially carbon negative, pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it back into the soil.”

Better Understanding Hemp

It’s important to understand the difference between hemp and marijuana. Although they both belong to the same genus and species, they characteristics differ widely. The main difference: hemp does not have enough THC to have significant psychoactive properties; this basically means it cannot be used to get high.

“Hemp is far less controversial than marijuana. So, it’s hard to understand why it isn’t supported by the U.S. government, to help remediate the soil and add to the crop rotation, and even help the farmers in states like West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee or Virginia, who have been seeing reducing crops for tobacco — which so much of their economies have been based on,” Bocskor pointed out. “This is a crop that is not only able to replace tobacco, but it even grows more easily, remediates the soil and has so many other potential areas that we can go with it besides hemp plastic, and hemp paper.

“In fact, this is a crop that would not even need subsidies, unlike so many other crops that we grow,” he supplemented. “So, this is an opportunity to not only bring economic benefit back to those regions I mentioned before but to do it in a way that has so many more positives.”

Betting On The Future

Companies in the industrial hemp industry include:

However, the valuations of these companies are pretty low. We wondered why.

“You have to say converging market forces,” the expert explicated. “On the one hand, hemp is potentially disruptive to the paper industry, to the textile industry, and to the plastics industry. And, disruption is not something that anybody in any industry that has an established, long-running, well-entrenched business likes.”

As Albert O. Hirschman points out in his book "The Rhetoric of Reaction," defenders of the status quo conceive change as risky, and thus use this argument to fight it.

“The disruption potential of hemp combined with the fact that it’s not as glamorous, interesting or immediately profitable as marijuana makes it difficult for the industry,” Bocskor continued, calling for increased research to back the growth of the environmentally-friendly industry.

“I happen to think that the global hemp market could easily be bigger than the cannabis market in 10 years,” the specialist concluded. “When you start to look at the paper market, the textile market for cotton, the plastics market on a global scale, you realize that these are industries that dwarf what could be the cannabis market on a global basis.”



Hemp Cars Could Be Wave of the Future


A car made from grass may not sound sturdy, but scientists say plant-based cars are the wave of the future.

Researchers in Australia and England are working on developing materials from plants like hemp and elephant grass to replace plastic and metal-based car components. Scientists say the materials are biodegradable and can increase fuel efficiency since they weigh about 30 percent less than currently used materials.

"The lighter the car, the less fuel you need to propel it," explains Alan Crosky of the School of Material Science and Engineering in the University of New South Whales in Australia.

Use, Then Bury

Crosky and his partners have been developing tough material from hemp, the reedy, less controversial cousin of the marijuana plant. "Hemp fibers have higher strength to weight ratios than steel and can also be considerably cheaper to manufacture," he says.

The hemp used in car construction contains only traces of the narcotic tetrahydrocannabinol, which lends marijuana its psychedelic effect.

Crosky explains building cars — even their outer shells — from plants like hemp could reduce the number of rusting car bodies and rotting car parts on old lots. The plant fibers are cleaned, heated, in some cases blended with small amounts of biodegradable plastics and molded into hardened paneling and filling.

Each year in the United States, 10 million to 11 million vehicles putter out and reach the end of their useful lives. While a network of salvage and shredder facilities process about 96 percent of these old cars, about 25 percent of the vehicles by weight, including plastics, fibers, foams, glass and rubber, remains as waste.

A car made mostly of heated, treated and molded hemp, says Crosky, could simply be buried at its life end and then consumed naturally by bacteria.

Europe Leading the Way

The idea has already taken firm root in countries like Germany and Britain, where manufacturers are required to pay tax for the disposal of old vehicles. As environmental issues become more pertinent, researchers believe natural fibers are likely to become a major component of cars around the world.

"Manufacturers pay a lot of money here to landfill something," says Mark Johnson, an engineer at the University of Warwick Manufacturing Group in England. "If it's made from degradable parts, you don't have to pay."

Johnson and his team have been creating parts from elephant grass, a bamboo-like plant that, he says, requires less processing than hemp to harden and mold into car components.

German car companies including Mercedes (Daimler/Chrysler), BMW and Audi Volkswagen have been leading the way in incorporating plant fibers in their models. Since the introduction of jute-based door panels in the Mercedes E class five years ago, German car companies have more than tripled their use of natural fibers to about 15,500 tons in 1999.

The next trend could be in building the shells of cars from plants. Crosky says he and his team are now looking at building exterior car panels from hemp.

In the United States, automobile companies have approached the idea more gingerly.

"We use natural fibers only when it makes sense technologically," says Phil Colley, a spokeman for the Ford Motor Co.

Colley says Ford has used flax, recycled cotton and a 14-foot tall, fibrous crop called kenaf in some parts, including under front hoods to dampen the sound of slamming them shut. Deere & Co. has used soy-based fiberglass composites in the panels of some of its tractors. By 2010, the New Jersey consulting firm Kline & Company anticipates natural fibers to replace a fifth of the fiberglass in current U.S. car models.

While researchers tout their benefits, Colley points are there are some drawbacks. Smell can become a problem, he says, particularly with hemp which can produce a musty odor when incorporated into a vehicle.

"You have to take into account all the tradeoffs," Colley says.

Inspirations in History

Although fiber car components may be a thing of the future, the idea of manufacturing material from fibrous plants dates back to even ancient times. Fragments of fabric woven from hemp have been found from 8,000 BC. Bamboo and sturdy grasses have been used in construction for centuries and plots in Japan still provide hemp to weave the emperor's religious robes.

Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Co., first toyed with the idea of plant-based car parts in 1940, when he took an ax and whacked the hood of a car trunk made from a soybean-based material to test its strength.

The car hood reportedly withstood the blow and now, 70 years later, car companies, including Ford's own, have finally begun to put the concept to use.

"Increasing the use of biodegradable and recycled materials will lower the impact of vehicle disposal," says Jim Kliesch, a researcher at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit, Washington-based organization dedicated to improving the environmental impact of technologies. "And that can only be a good thing."



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