Lego bricks could linger up to 1,300 years in the ocean, scientists say

The study sheds light on just how long certain types of plastic can live on in the marine environment.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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These Lego bricks show deterioration from their time in the water.

Andrew Turner, University of Plymouth

Plastic is everywhere in the ocean, even in its deepest reaches. It lingers and lurks in the water, a real-life horror story. Lego bricks, the interlocking plastic toys, are no different. A study lead by researchers at the University of Plymouth in the UK estimates Lego bricks could survive in the ocean for between 100 and 1,300 years.

The team studied Lego bricks collected from beach cleanups in England. They measured the mass and stud size of the bricks, and examined chemical changes. 

"By pairing those items with unweathered sets purchased in the 1970s and '80s, researchers were able to identify levels of wear and -- as a result -- how long the pieces might continue to endure in the marine environment," the University of Plymouth said in a release on Monday.

Lego is aware of the environmental impact of plastics and is working to make its bricks from sustainable sources by 2030. The company is already experimenting with pieces based on polyethylene from sugarcane, but these are not biodegradable. The researchers did not look into how long these newer bricks might last in the ocean.  

The study isn't so much about pointing an accusing finger at Lego as it is about understanding just how long certain types of plastic can persist in the marine environment.   

The wear patterns seen in the water-logged Lego pieces suggest they are breaking down into microplastics, which can be harmful to sea life

Said study lead Andrew Turner, "It once again emphasizes the importance of people disposing of used items properly to ensure they do not pose potential problems for the environment." 

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