A newly published study has found that ordinary plastic LEGO bricks may last for up to 1,300 years in the ocean, highlighting the need to carefully dispose of plastic waste. The research involved LEGO bricks that had washed up on the South West England coastlines, thousands of pieces of which have been collected during beach cleanup efforts.
Of the collected LEGO bricks that had washed up on the shore, the researchers with the University of Plymouth selected 50 and analyzed them. The bricks were cleaned, then weighed and the studs on them were measured. An XRF spectrometer was used to figure out how old each piece was based on materials used in them.
The researchers compared these harvested bricks with LEGOs from the 1970s and 1980s that were still in good shape. Based on this analysis, the team found that LEGOs may be able to survive in the ocean for between 100 years and 1,300 years, depending on the brick and conditions.
The researchers note that some of the bricks from the coastline were fractured or had broken into fragments, meaning these little plastic bricks may eventually break down into microplastics. These tiny fibers of plastic have been the subject of many past studies, which have found that they work their way into drinking water, fish, and more.
Study lead Dr. Andrew Turner explained:
LEGO is one of the most popular children’s toys in history and part of its appeal has always been its durability. It is specifically designed to be played with and handled, so it may not be especially surprising that despite potentially being in the sea for decades it isn’t significantly worn down. However, the full extent of its durability was even a surprise to us … It once again emphasizes the importance of people disposing of used items properly to ensure they do not pose potential problems for the environment.