New research has shown that Lego bricks take between 100 and 1,300 years to fully disintegrate at sea.
While it may seem absurd that Lego pieces would even be in the ocean, there are in fact millions. According to Science Alert, nearly 5 million bits of Lego on a container ship fell overboard in 1997.
Other estimates also predict over 2 million blocks have been flushed down the toilet by children. Lego has pledged to be more sustainable by 2030, this tough polymer has already contributed significantly to ocean plastic waste.
Researchers collected 50 blocks from the beaches of southwest England and compared chemicals in the weathered samples to archived Lego blocks in their original condition.
“Based on mass difference among paired samples that are about 40 years old we estimate residence times in the marine environment on the order of hundreds of years,” the authors said in their study.
Many of these blocks match those sold in the 70s and 80s, and despite some weathering they appear recognisable.
“The pieces we tested had smoothed and discoloured, with some of the structures having fractured and fragmented, suggesting that as well as pieces remaining intact they might also break down into microplastics,” said Andrew Turner from the University of Plymouth, one of the authors.
“It once again emphasises the importance of people disposing of used items properly to ensure they do not pose potential problems for the environment.”