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  • LEGO Packaging: Do Smaller Boxes Equate to Greener Bottom Line and Environment?


    The Green Image

    Over the past several years, The LEGO Group has made an effort to be a "green" multinational company.  Investing in large wind turbines was one way they illustrated this desire to become an ecologically friendly company.  Another way was reducing their carbon use and abuse.  One way to do this was to shrink their LEGO box size.  As the company stated in this memo...

    LEGO The builders of tomorrow expect that we do everything we can to mitigate (reduce the amount of future climate change) our business’ impact on the environment. We acknowledge that our operations have an impact on the environment in areas like climate change, resource use and waste. Yet, it is undisputedly our ambition to protect children’s right to live in a healthy environment, both now and in the future.

    According to what our friends at the LEGO Company are putting on their website, they have seriously plans to reduce their ecological footprint.

    Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Mauna Loa, Hawaii

    It has been proven that the accelerated rate of CO2 pollution has a negative impact on the earth’s atmosphere. The continuing industrialization of the modern world is one of the key-factors to this pollution. Whether the pollution is really a hazard to Earth’s atmosphere, I will not go into in-depth.  I do applaud companies like The LEGO Group for trying to go for CO2-neutrality. The people at LEGO have calculated that approximately 15% of the entire Group’s CO2 impact is associated with packing. It seems a logical step that one of TLG’s plans to tackle this problem was to decrease the size of their set boxes.

    Slim Boxes

    The first line of 'slim' boxes was released in 2013 and by 2015; the entire line available in shops should be replaced. It would bring down the usage of cardboard by up to 4000 tons annually and it will reduce the CO2 impact by around 10% of the packaging process. Smaller boxes would also benefit the retailers as they can put more boxes on their shelves.  Shipping costs will be decreased too so it seems to be a win-win for all. Let’s take a look at some of those slim boxes. I assume that all boxes brought out in 2014 are of the newer ‘slim’ kind and all boxes prior to 2013 are those of the ‘fat’ kind. In order to establish if the boxes have actually become slimmer, my criteria are the volume of the box, the amount of pieces and also very important, the weight of those boxes.

    Example 1: Modular Building Series

    As first example, I’ll take the Modular Building Series 10224-1 Town Hall has the largest piece count and 10243-1 Parisian Restaurant, the second largest. I also added 10211-1 Grand Emporium. The conclusion here would be that indeed the box size has been decreased. As a note here, I add that there are plenty smaller pieces in the 10243-1 than in the 10224-1 and 101211. That explains the numbers you find when comparing the piece count and weight to the other sets mentioned. It is looking good here. If I take the average volume for 10224-1 and 10211-1, I calculate 29.8dm³. That would make the 10243-1 a whopping 25% smaller.

      10211-1 Grand Emporium 10224-1 Town Hall 10243-1 Parisian Restaurant
    Released 2010 2012 2014
    Piece Count 2182 2766 2469
    Weight (g) 2900 3820 2610
    Dimensions (cm) 58.2 x 47.8 x 8.8 48 x 58 x 12.5 58 x 38.5 x 10
    Volume (dm³) 24.48 34.8 22.33
    Pieces/dm³ 89.13 79.48 110.57
    Weight/dm³ 118.46 109.77 116.88

    Example 2: CITY Trains

    Another very popular series of sets over the years have been the LEGO City Trains. I left 3677-1 Red Cargo train out of the comparison to spread the production dates. All sets have a similar piece count and all have Power Functions that comes with them. Here the difference is smaller than the MBS example above. We can even see the box size of 60052-1 growing with 2% compared to the 7939-1. Of course, there are 49 pieces more in the latest set so that needs to be taken into account for the City Trains example.

     

      7898-1 Cargo Train Deluxe 7939-1 Cargo Train 60052-1 Cargo Train
    Released 2006 2010 2014
    Piece Count 856 839 888
    Weight (g) 2990 2790 2904
    Dimensions (cm) 64.77 x 47.75 x 9.4 52.83 x 37.85 x 12.45 58.2 x 48 x 9.1
    Volume (dm³) 29.07 24.9 25.42
    Pieces/dm³ 29.44 33.69 34.93
    Weight/dm³ 102.85 112.05 114.24

    Example 3: DC Comics

    One of the more popular series with all the attention from the motion pictures are the DC and Marvell Comics series. I took 3 sets with comparable piece count from the DC Comics line up. While having a larger piece count, the box of 6864-1 does seem to be smaller than the one of 76013-1. The difference is a striking 14% even in the disadvantage of the latter one. Compared to the oldest set of the three with the smallest , the 76013-1 is a comforting 22% smaller.

      7888-1 The Tumbler 6864-1 The Batmobile and The Two-Face Chase 76013-1 Batman: The Joker Steamroller
    Released 2008 2012 2014
    Piece Count 449 531 486
    Weight (g) 1020 930 860
    Dimensions (cm) 48 x 25.5 x 9.4 47.5 x 28.45 x 6.1 38.2 x 26.2 x 9.4
    Volume (dm³) 11.5 8.24 9.4
    Pieces/dm³ 39.04 64.44 51.7
    Weight/dm³ 88.69 112.86 91.49

     

    Example 4: STAR WARS Battle Pack

    I assume these are one of the best-selling sets for LEGO apart from any City set. The weight for all battle packs are the same but the piece count for 8014-1 does differ somewhat from the other 2. The best comparison for box size would be the 2 latest editions. So what we see here is that the box of the 2014 set is 12% larger than 7913-1, the set from 2011. I personally think this example is a very important one due to the similar weight, piece count and included booklets.

     

     

      8014-1 Clone Walker Battle Pack 7913-1 Clone Trooper Battle Pack 75036-1 Utapau Troopers
    Released 2009 2011 2014
    Piece Count 72 85 83
    Weight (g) 110 110 110
    Dimensions (cm) 19 x 13.9 x 4.5 19.1 x 14.1 x 4.1 19.1 x 14.1 x 4.6
    Volume (dm³) 1.19 1.10 1.24
    Pieces/dm³ 60.5 77.27 66.94
    Weight/dm³ 92.43 100 88.71

    Example 5: STAR WARS set (Large)

    For this example, I thought long and hard of which set to use and the one that came to mind was the AT-AT. Various versions of this behemoth have been brought out over the years and the piece count of all sets is about the same. The 8129-1 version of AT-AT was left out due to the ridiculously oversized box and the non-comparable piece count. The box size of the 2014 model has made great progress compared to the older versions. 75054-1 has 18% less volume than 10178-1 and 54%(!) less than the 4483-1 model. We should note here that the 10178-1 does have Power Functions and those parts do weigh extra and take more room than ordinary pieces.

      4483-1 AT-AT 10178-1 Motorized Walking AT-AT 75054-1 AT-AT
    Released 2003 2007 2014
    Piece Count 1068 1137 1137
    Weight (g) 1970 1730 1520
    Dimensions (cm) 57.5 x 38.3 x 9 38 x 57 x 7 48 x 37.8 x 7.1
    Volume (dm³) 19.82 15.16 12.88
    Pieces/dm³ 53.88 75 88.27
    Weight/dm³ 99.39 114.11 118.01

     

    Example 6: City Police

    I was looking for a set to compare from the City theme (apart from the trains) and the one that is most easily comparable is the police station so below you can find the most recent Police HQ sets that have been available. The piece count does fluctuate more strongly than earlier examples. Here the box size of the 2014 model is 9% smaller than the box 7498-1 AND has 71 pieces more. In comparison to the 7744-1, the difference is even bigger at almost 13% but here we have to note that 60047-1 has 99 pieces less than 7744-1.

      7744-1 Police Headquarters 7498-1 Police Station 60047-1 Police Station
    Released 2008 2011 2014
    Piece Count 953 783 854
    Weight (g) 2400 2110 2200
    Dimensions (cm) 62.2 x 38.4 x 9.6 57.91 x 39.88 x 9.65 48 x 37.8 x 11.2
    Volume (dm³) 22.92 22.29 20.32
    Pieces/dm³ 41.58 35.13 42.03
    Weight/dm³ 104.71 94.66 108.27

    Analysis

    In order to establish how much exactly the boxes have gotten slimmer compared to the fat ones, I decided to take the average of boxes pre-2013 and compare them to the average of the 2014 released boxes. This gave me the following table.

      Fat Boxes (<2013) Slim Boxes (2014) Difference
    Piece Count 977 986 +9 (1%)
    Weight (g) 1907 1701 -206 (11%)
    Volume (dm³) 17.96 15.27 -2.69 (15%)
    Pieces/dm³ 56.55 65.75 +9.2 (16%)
    Weight/dm³ 104.17 106.27 +2.1 (2%)
    Slim boxes help the environment

    So the first thing we can see is that the piece count for the sets is more or less equal. Then when we take a look at the actual size, it is noticeable that the boxes have actually shrunk 15% so we can say that LEGO's objective has been reached so far...

    But...

    Not quite. Because there are a few other numbers that need to be looked at. The average weight of a set has gone down 11% or 206 grams. So is this because of the cardboard that LEGO has saved on packaging the set? If we look at a standard box of a medium set like e.g. 75052-1 Mos Isley Cantina we see that the entire box weighs 198 grams (thanks Huskers1236). The box itself has a volume of 9,1 dm³. Per dm³ that means its mass would be around 21,75 grams. If we multiply this by 2.69 we get to 58.5 grams that the boxes should be lighter due to the saved cardboard.

    But what happened to the extra 147.5 grams?

    During the years, The LEGO Group have refined their construction methods of building bricks to try to squeeze as much bricks as they can out of the ABS-pellets. It is hard to calculate how much exactly the production process contributes of the 2014 sets to be lighter. There is however a more interesting fact that we can see in the tables and that is the pieces/dm³. This went up 16% and that could mean 2 things. Either the machines filling the bags are getting more logical and drop the bricks in a more orderly fashion in the bags, or the pieces used in the newer sets are smaller than the pre-2013 sets. I noticed something when I was sorting the pieces for  10243-1 Parisian Restaurant. There were plenty of small pieces in the set. Now, this is not a bad thing, it means more detail, but most people look at a box and say:

    "Wow 2600 pieces. This thing must be huge"

    While in fact, the Parisian Restaurant was everything BUT huge. It has the biggest piece count, received a heavier price tag and although it does have very nice detail, I simply felt a bit left in the cold after building the other 'larger' MBS with fewer pieces. Smaller pieces are also cheaper to produce and coincidentally, they take up less space in a box.

    Conclusion

    I personally find the LEGO claim of reducing box size a bit misleading. Sure, the boxes have shrunk averaged taken and that is a good thing, for the environment, retailers, consumers. However, the sets also did get smaller in my opinion. This is not that noticeable at first sight since the piece count stays about the same, but if you look at the average weight, you just know something is not right.

    LEGO boxes have decreased in size  an average of 15%

    money

    But they didn't do it by some revolutionary new engineering strategy in packaging. It's a bit sad really to see a company that cares so much about the environment using a 'cunning plan' like this that is more about marketing and perception to fool people.

    In the end, it will be the consumer, as always, paying more for these smaller boxes and sets.

    That is how I see it after researching this topic. LEGO looking everywhere to maximize profits. Seeing there could be money in making the average LEGO piece in a set smaller and then coming up with a story that it is good for the environment.



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    Hey, thanks for the article. I'm not sure I agree with your conclusion. TLG is the world leader in toys. I don't think they are not serious about something they tell their community in terms of ecologic strategy. The fact that they did actually stopped the deal with Shell under pressure is proof that the image of quality and durability is important for their brand. Also, it's obvious TLG is extremely profitable. But the company isn't listed on the stock market. So the pressure is less to squeeze out customers through 'misleading' communication. The fact that more smaller parts are used is ok for me. I actually love the minibuilds. Using the smallest elements to make scaled things in a very creative way. That's what Lego is about: building, new ideas, creativity and also offering the kids the chance to re-use the bricks to build other stuff. I quit Lego in the 90ties when the group was piling up sets that used huge blocks that were very difficult to re-use for your own MOC's. It took them a serious restructuration and reduction of the molds to become what they are today. So all in all, it's a nice article, but I don't really agree with the conclusion. TLG swims in the cash agreed, but it's philosophy of being the best toy for a kid remains the most important priority. Let's hope they keep rising prices and quality: that way the product remains exclusive and continues to fend off in a natural way all the counterfeit and competition.

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    Hello bjiri, Thank you for taking the time to reply. Indeed the image I put of LEGO in this article is somewhat too harsh. They still produce a very important and loved toy. When I hear that LEGO wants to shrink their boxes, I simply assumed they would take the same amount of content and put it in a smaller box. Much like the picture of the 2 8047 that goes with their article about the smaller boxes. I also based my conclusion on this. Yes, smaller pieces are more cost effective, and more fun for certain people, but to me, it remains less content and thus misleading when I look at their original article about smaller boxes.

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    Interesting read, it's a good comparison of measurements. So you basically conclude that the decrease in box size mostly correlates with decreased brick weight per box. Given the limited sample size, the 2% weight/volume increase is too low to talk about an actual trend, the conclusion that there's not much change in either direction seems valid. But to underline what you describe as a "cunning plan", it might be worth to also look at whether they increased the effective price per LEGO (for example measured by weight), especially if this comparison includes inflation adjusted prices. I know the aim of this article isn't directly about cost, but I find it unlikely that LEGO simply reduced box size as some big PR stunt (a memo of which like 1% of customers will ever hear). So the immanent question for me is, did they just reduce average box sizes and content, or does that also extend to customers getting less LEGO for the money?

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    I find that breaking down sets and putting them back into a box after building them always proves that lego boxes could be much smaller.  Even the large exclusives have a lot of unecessary empty space.  My theory is that they want to make it seem like you are getting more for your money.  It's kind of like a bag of potato chips - they always are only half filled when you open them.   I personally would rather them decrease the box sizes to fit the actual amount of pieces.

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    Not sure if the aim of reducing the box size is to protect the environment , but the piece count /weight ratio reveals a few subtle points

    1. small bricks are cheaper to produce and/or

    2. small bricks are easier to pack into a box and/or

    3. higher piece count will make the consumer think that the set has a bigger build and therefore worth its money. most investors know that the average price for a set should be around 10c /piece . perhaps in order not to make the price increase obvious at first glance , Lego makes smaller bricks to increase the piece count . For example,  two 2x1 tile equals to one 2x2 tile. So Lego can replace the 2x2 tile with two 2x1 tiles , thereby increasing the piece count to justify the price increase but the effect on the build size is the same.

    Edited by tommy

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