It’s Kind of Crazy How Long Lego Trash Has Been Washing Up on These Beaches

Ever since a freak shipping accident, blocks, Minifigures, and other plastic pieces have been coming ashore in the U.K.

(Photo: Lego Lost at Sea/Facebook)

Jul 22, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Nerd confession time: I love my Lego Star Wars magnets, and given Los Angeles’ pricey real estate market, I sometimes build a fantasy house from my 10-year-old’s massive collection of blocks. But there’s no denying that the colorful bricks and Minifigures are made of a material that’s positively choking our oceans: plastic.

Folks living along the coast of Cornwall, in the southwest of England, know this all too well. Legos have been showing up on the area’s beaches ever since a freak accident in 1997 sent cargo on the container ship Tokio Express sliding into the Atlantic Ocean 20 miles off the British coast. One of the lost shipping containers held 4.8 million Lego pieces. They’ve been washing up on the Cornwall shore ever since.

“There are stories of kids in the late 1990s having buckets of dragons on the beach, selling them,” area resident Tracey Williams told BBC News Magazine. Williams runs a Facebook page, Lego Lost at Sea, that keeps track of the plastic bricks and figures that have been found. Many of the washed-up Legos have turned out to have a nautical theme. Along with the dragons, green plastic sea grass, tiny silver cutlasses, blue flippers, black octopuses, and regular old blocks have been mainstays on the shore.

“The mystery is where they’ve ended up. After 17 years they’ve only been definitely reported off the coast of Cornwall,” U.S.-based oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer told BBC News Magazine. Ocean currents have likely carried the plastic around the world several times since the accident. But they always come back home.

“The most profound lesson I’ve learned from the Lego story is that things that go to the bottom of the sea don’t always stay there,” Ebbesmeyer added. That could mean that centuries from now, kids playing on the Cornwall coast will still be plucking Lego bits out of the sand.