LEGO pieces still washing up on Cornish beaches 25 years later

In 1997 millions of LEGO figures spilled into the sea from a container ship, Tracey Williams has been documenting the legacy of all that plastic

Big Zero Report 2022

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Take a stroll along a beach in Cornwall and you might find a plastic sword, octopus or sea-monster!

On 13th February 1997, a rogue wave pushed sixty-two containers off the cargo ship Tokio Express which was heading to New York.

Into the seas went nearly five million pieces of Lego, many of which were sea-themed.

ELN has spoken to Tracey Williams, a writer and beachcomber, who has been charting the legacy of the LEGO spill for all these years and has now written a book about this peculiar plastic pollution incident.

At the time of the cargo spill, Tracey was living with her family on the south coast of Devon.

She said: “In 1997 we started to find LEGO washing up. At first, we did not realise it was from the cargo spill, but then as more and more came in, we realised what had happened.

“And it was mostly sea-themed pieces. So, little tiny cutlasses, life vests, spear guns, dragons and octopuses. There was a lot of plastic washing up and I think that’s the first time I really noticed how much plastic there was. I had never really noticed it before but the beaches were covered in LEGO from the spill.”

She said that she forgot about the LEGO for a while and until 2010 when she moved to Cornwall and saw there was still a lot of plastic on the beaches.

Tracey added: “The very first time I went to the beach, I found a bit of LEGO from the spill. And I thought that it was quite astonishing that after all these years LEGO pieces were still turning up and by then I had become part of the beach clean network.”

She set up a Facebook page and then many people from around the world started contacting her about LEGO pieces they too have found on the beaches not just of Cornwall but elsewhere.

After collecting hundreds of pieces from the beaches near her house, she wrote a book titled ‘Adrift: The Curious Tale of the LEGO lost at sea” describing her experience.

Even just a few days ago she found a piece of LEGO and Tracey says the incident has made her realise how many years plastic can survive in our oceans. She now plans to make a documentary about the experience.

In response, a LEGO spokesperson said: “We’re passionate about keeping LEGO bricks out of nature, and we don’t ever want LEGO bricks to end up in the sea. The cargo spill from the Tokio Express was an unfortunate accident 25 years ago.

“The LEGO Group is very serious about taking care of the planet and we have a bold sustainability strategy that aims to leave a positive impact on the planet for children to inherit.”

Click on the podcast to listen to the full interview.

Image: Tracey Williams


LEGO life jacket (Image: Tracey Williams)

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