A recent Facebook post from a childhood friend got my attention: “Anyone looking to get rid of legos?” I had just that day been assigned a story on how to recycle or pass on used LEGOs, so of course I immediately thought of one of my favourite words, which in this situation was most applicable: kismet. But beyond coincidence, the post signified just how much LEGOs are a part of many parents’ lives — whether their kids are currently enjoying them, or they want to get more of them, or they want to get rid of them.
I asked my friend why she was looking for LEGOs on Facebook. “Legos are very popular! They are the original connecting building blocks!” she wrote, adding that they are also very expensive. “We got a Lego magazine in the mail and we almost fell over at the prices of some of the kits!”
The holidays are the most wonderful time of year, unless you are the planet. To get to actual holiday joy, you’ve got to tear through several layers of waste: Disposable wrapping, frilly ribbons, packing tape, wads of plastic shopping bags, mountains of clamshell packaging, and crappy lights that didn’t even make it to Christmas eve.
So on the one hand, LEGOs are in demand and are expensive. But on the other, getting rid of LEGO bricks is also something parents everywhere have to deal with. Sounds like a classic case of supply and demand, right? One that shouldn’t pose any obstacles? Not exactly.
First off, any parent knows that it’s beyond difficult to keep toys in their proper place. Now just imagine keeping hundreds of tiny pieces of LEGOs with the correct ones that when put together can create the United States Capitol Building. That’s likely not going to happen. But some donation sites don’t take LEGOs if they’re out of their original packaging.
Which means that donating can be difficult. Busy parents might consider just recycling the plastic blocks, but unfortunately LEGOS are made from ABS plastic, which can’t be recycled. According to the donation site Brick Recycler, oftentimes curbside recycling programs have to dump recycling with LEGOs in it into the trash stream because they’re too small to be sorted out.
(The LEGO company announced earlier this year that it has begun to produce sustainable LEGOs made of plant-based plastic sourced from sugarcane.)
There’s also the issue of cleanliness. My same friend on Facebook put it well: “Legos have all these deep parts that can be a growing field of bacteria and mould. You just don’t know where it comes from and what germs are on it all.”
It's a heartwarming idea to bring out that beloved old bin of LEGO you played with as a child and hand it down to your kids so they can experience the same magic. But it's probably safer to find a newer set. Scientists in England tested 200 used plastic toys for nine hazardous elements, and found that ten per cent contained traces of all of them.
This leaves parents with too many LEGO bricks in a bind. But there are some ways to sustainably pass them along. Here are your options:
Option 1: Clean and give away to friends or family
This may be the most time intensive of the options and for busy parents, I advise jumping ahead to Option 2. Nothing for you here!
The LEGO website has instructions for how to clean LEGOs (mild soap, water, sponge). But there are warnings, too. Don’t let them get hot! Don’t put them in a washing machine, dishwasher or the microwave! Don’t wash them in water above 40c! “When the bricks get really hot they may change shape, which means they won’t work anymore!” the site reads.
After cleaning, LEGO recommends passing the bricks on to “keep the creativity going,” says Karen Lynch Nolan, Senior Vice President at LEGO. That means packaging them up the best you can and gifting a friend’s child, a family member’s kid, or perhaps your local library or place of worship. Just make sure you call ahead to those places first. LEGOs are not always welcome donations, no matter how clean they are.
If you have kids who love LEGO, you've probably shouted in pain after stepping on LEGO bricks. Those things get everywhere. Here's a DIY solution from The Handyman's Daughter. Using an IKEA Lack side table, a Trofast bin and some baseplates, you can create a play table with a drawer to keep the pieces contained.
Option 2: Donate to a local charity
Gathering all your LEGOs and donating them to places like the Salvation Army or Goodwill is another option, but again, make sure your chosen donation site actually accepts them. In New York City, after calling a half dozen sites for each agency I found that some accept LEGOs and some don’t. The ones that said yes also added that it was fine for the sets to be mixed up.
Smaller consignment shops, on the other hand, are less likely to take mixed up bricks because they don’t have the resources to sort and clean them.
Option 3: Send to collection groups
Sites like Brick Recycler, The Giving Brick and Brick Dreams have launched in recent years in order to address the unique supply and demand problem presented by LEGOs. Each has its own requirements for donations, but in general they accept donations of LEGO bricks of all kinds: mixed up, all together, dirty or clean. Brick Recycler says it has “repurposed” more than 3 million LEGO pieces.
The groups clean and sort bricks and then donate them to children’s support groups, hospitals, daycare facilities and more. Some sell cleaned sets that were donated in order to pay for operations.
Depending on where you live, you could drop off old LEGOs or ship them to the groups. Brick Recycler pays for shipping.
Option 4: Try to sell them
If you want to see at least a slight monetary return on your LEGO investment, selling your LEGOs is another option. BrickLink is an impressive online marketplace for both buyers and sellers. It’s searchable by type of LEGO, colour, item number and more. This is where hardcore LEGO enthusiasts go to find that one missing piece.
Toy Brick Brigade was another site that would buy bulk LEGOs (14kg and over only), but as of October 2018 they have stopped procuring any more product “until further notice.” Talk about demand.
If you’ve got a LEGO lover in your family, my advice is to try your best to keep parts together, or at least organised. And if your kid becomes an obsessive, check out the local Goodwill or BrickLink for used sets and bricks.