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Thursday, April 2, 2020
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Sustainable trees…

Not much of a story? Aren’t all trees sustainable [“avoiding depletion of natural resources”; “capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage“] by their very nature as natural entities? Yes, real, bona fide, natural, biological trees. But, this story concerns artificial trees* – and other miniature models of botanical entities such as bushes and leaves – made by iconic Danish modelling and marketing mega-phenomenon, Lego®.

Fabricated from polyethylene, which is derived from ethanol extracted from sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum), they are truly miniature vegetable marvels. However, as a bio-plastic, although they can be recycled many times, they are unlikely to be completely biodegradable. But, this is a first step along a road to 2030, by which date Lego® aims to have found sustainable sources to replace its current fossil fuel-based raw materials.

Lego park
Photo: rosinka79 / 123RF Stock Photo.

This new product therefore underlines its partnership both with the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) , and the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance. Due to be launched later this year one hopes the pieces will be available for the Christmas period and the range broadened to include mistletoe, holly, and ivy – maybe as ‘gifts’ to go inside Christmas crackers? In any event, it’s rather pleasing that a suitably symbolically ‘green’ message has been given to the world by the company choosing to market these botanicals – which are coloured green – as their first sustainable pieces.

Now, if only Lego® can fashion life-size lichens from this material, maybe miniature-railway** enthusiasts wouldn’t have to exploit real lichens to use as hedges, etc. for their lay-out’s landscapes. That way, reindeer [Ed. – what is it with all of this Christmas connection in this early-summer news item?] would have plenty to graze on, and that valuable resource would be sustainable (and for resource, read lichen and/or reindeer…). But, the really big question is surely: Can we now expect a UK dimension to this with sustained collaboration between the University of Cambridge’s Lego® Professor of Play in Education, Development and Learning and that venerable institution’s plant scientists at its Sainsbury Laboratory?

* The ultimate artificial Lego® tree must be record-breaking “largest LEGO brick cherry blossom tree” built from 881,470 bricks at a theme park in Nagoya (Japan).

** Hyphen added to avoid the snail mail/eMails/tweets/telegrams/pigeon post comments that would doubtless be received if we were seen to be excluding full-sized railway modellers from this activity… (H)o, (h)o, (h)o, as Santa might say?

Nigel Chaffeyhttps://www.bathspa.ac.uk/our-people/nigel-chaffey/
Nigel is a botanist and was a full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK) until 31st July, 2019. As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ (until March 2019). He remains a botanist and is now a freelance plant science communicator who continues to share his Cuttingsesque items with a plant-curious audience. In that guise his main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.



  1. Excellent news. I love how the pollution of plastic is getting such a spotlight lately, people of all ages seem to be showing a genuine interest in making positive change.

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