A single LEGO brick can survive within the ocean for as much as 1,300 years, researchers have found.
In a examine printed in Environmental Pollution, a crew led by Andrew Turner, from Portsmouth University within the U.Okay. analyzed 50 items of weathered LEGO bricks discovered washed up on the shores of Cornwall, southwest England.
Pieces had been cleaned, measured and weighed. Researchers studied their chemical traits to test the age of every block, basing their calculations on components within the bricks which might be now not used within the manufacturing course of. These bricks had been then paired and in contrast with unweathered units from the seventies and eighties, in order that the crew may decide the extent of damage and tear every had skilled over the past forty years or so.
“LEGO is one of the most popular children’s toys in history and part of its appeal has always been its durability,” Turner mentioned in an announcement.
“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.”
Established in 1932 and launched to the U.S. in 1962, the toy firm had produced greater than 400 billion models by 2008. This, the producer says, is sufficient to construct a tower stretching from the Earth to the moon ten occasions over. Today, the LEGO Group is likely one of the main toy firms on the planet and raked in roughly £1.2 billion in income in 2019.
But as a result of LEGO bricks are a comparatively latest invention, the speed of weathering over a interval quite a lot of many years is troublesome to measure. It is much more so as a result of the chemical composition of LEGO bricks has modified over time—so varies rather a lot.
However, that variation does comes with a bonus. Turner informed Newsweek the modifications in pigment composition which have taken place all through the corporate’s historical past enabled the researchers to find out when the bricks had been manufactured and due to this fact, decide the speed of decay.
It was not the one purpose the crew selected to check LEGO bricks: they’re iconic plastics that most individuals can establish with, he defined.
Their evaluation confirmed weathered bricks displayed extra yellowing, fracturing and fouling than unweathered bricks they had been paired with, although the extent of every of those processes diversified block-to-block, relying on the circumstances the brick was subjected to. The weathered bricks additionally tended to have a decrease mass, a decrease common stud peak and a decrease mechanical energy.
The examine’s authors ascribe these modifications to bodily put on and tear to deterioration attributable to mild and oxygen. However, the extent of the harm—and the entire period of time every particular person LEGO brick survives within the ocean—varies relying on how a lot mild and oxygen and the way a lot bodily put on the brick is uncovered to.
According to the researchers, the higher estimate of 1,300 years mirror a strategy of gradual degradation which may occur if, for instance, there may be restricted mild and oxygen publicity. The decrease estimates could apply if there may be further stress positioned on the bricks that causes the plastic to fragment and so deteriorate faster.
Findings counsel LEGO bricks have the potential to final for anyplace between 100 and 1,300 years—implying archaeologists within the 12 months 3,000 CE should still be digging up our discarded LEGO. There are only a few projections for what the world would possibly appear to be then. Though one paper from researchers on the University of Alaska Fairbanks has prompt all the Greenland Ice Sheet may soften in a millennium if emissions will not be reduce, resulting in a 17 to 23 toes sea stage rise.
The distinction between the higher and decrease estimates underscores the challenges and uncertainties that underlies efforts to foretell how briskly—or not so quick—plastic degrades, Chris Reddy, senior scientist within the Department of Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), informed Newsweek.
“The authors choose a material that was well known and characterized and hence had the luxury of minimizing uncertainty of “their beginning materials”. And yet they were cautious enough to give such a wide range.
“How correct are different estimates—too sluggish or too quick—for the numerous different merchandise within the ocean when you think about the vary in ages for a well-designed experiment on this paper?”
The crew say their estimates in comparison with the lifespans of plastic bottles fabricated from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). These are thinner, however as earlier research have proven, may take many years to disintegrate, displaying as soon as once more how lengthy merchandise created from plastic can final.
This is especially vital given the sheer quantity of plastic making its approach into the ocean. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), not less than eight million tons of plastic is added annually.
This waste might be discovered on distant islands within the Pacific and Atlantic, and makes up “plastic islands” twice the scale of Texas. Not solely have plastics been discovered within the oceans’ deepest trenches, nevertheless it has been discovered within the physique of a newly found species of animal that inhabits these trenches—and which biologists, consequently, determined to call Eurythenes plasticus.
As the quantity of air pollution continues to build up, the examine’s authors hopes their analysis on LEGO lifespan will encourage folks to be extra cautious with regards to discarding plastic merchandise.
“It shows that many plastics will be rather persistent in the marine environment, and that nature finds it difficult to decompose and degrade the material,” Turner informed Newsweek. “Accordingly, plastic will continue to build up unless we intervene and reduce use or clean up the environment.”
The article has been up to date to incorporate feedback from Chris Reddy.