BrickHat

Safety of long-term minifig/part storage in plastic bags

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I recently learned that in the general figure collecting world, it is well-known that most plastic bags are bad choices for long-term storage of figures. What happens is a lot of plastic bags, especially the ones for food, are not designed for long-term storage. A lot of them contain acids. In time, entropy does its job, and the plastic decomposes, releasing fumes. In sealed bags, this can cause damage to figures.

Now, I've heard a solution is to poke holes in the bag to allow the figure to be ventilated, but I find this to be useless, since I am also trying to protect my minifigs against humidity and mold. It seems that the safest way is to get polypropylene bags, which are designed specifically for collectibles and are the ones used in bags for comic books. I found that info here: http://www.mhtoyshop.com/storing-your-loose-action-figures/

My question is, does anyone know if Lego figures are as susceptible to this kind of damage as regular figures? If that is the case, I have hundreds of little baggies to replace... :laugh::laugh::laugh:

Edited by BrickHat

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Sure if you want to be able to pass them on to your childrens children, you should take precautions. I wouldn't worry about it too much. It's inevatable that the ABS plastic of the figures will start to get brittle but keeping them in plastic bags wont really help stop or speed up that process. Just worry about scratches and keeping the torso's apart from the legs to avoid cracks.

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ABS, the plastic from which most LEGO parts are made, is pretty acid resistant. It's extremely unlikely that storing LEGO in baggies would damage the parts in any way. I suspect that the figures damaged by bags in the wider toy collecting world aren't made of ABS. For the record, I'm neither a chemist nor a materials scientist.

I have stored some LEGO parts in grip-seal small component baggies for 15+ years. Not only have the parts not been damaged by the baggies, they have been protected from dust and scratching by them.

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Thanks everyone for the replies. I decided to replace all my bags for polypropylene bags, unless I was 100% sure that no parts of the minifigs (capes or ABS) could get damaged in this way. I wrote to Lego, but they were unable to offer much insight, aside from advising me that, if you want minifigs to last long, you should wipe with a clean cloth before storing, because the oil in people's hands can damage them in the long term.

As a PSA, there's a couple of archival materials that can be used because they are inert: they do not really react with anything. Mylar is the most expensive, and it's used in the comic book collecting world. I was unable to find any zip bags made of that material. Then there's polypropylene and polyethylene. Polypropylene is the clearer one, but it is also more rigid and a bit more brittle. Polyethylene is more flexible, but I've heard it is also less durable. I got new bags for my figs from here, and so far they have worked great: they look better than they did in my old baggies. The rigidity of the new bags is a little annoying, but the colors look much clearer, which is always a plus with minifigs. And now, I am more confident that my minifigs will endure decades of aging. So, if anyone is interested, the 2x3 bags work really well for minifigs, although they won't work for astromech droids, keychains, or big figs.

Finally, if you have an SDCC exclusive with a card or any other paper collectible, I would advise you to get a polypropylene bag for it. Paper is especially vulnerable to the acid in most bags.

I found all of this info by persistent Googling, but if you have any questions as to what I found, feel free to post them.

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19 hours ago, BrickHat said:

I wrote to Lego, but they were unable to offer much insight, aside from advising me that, if you want minifigs to last long, you should wipe with a clean cloth before storing, because the oil in people's hands can damage them in the long term.

I have reason to believe that what TLG told you is wrong as far as ABS minifig parts are concerned. I have been an AFOL since 1993 and still have the minifigures I got back then. Apart from some discolouration of the white and grey parts, they're still in perfect condition. There's no sign of the kind of damage that skin oil acids can cause to other materials such as some metals. As I said in my last post, ABS is pretty acid resistant. 

 

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I have less than a dozen minifigures older than me and a lot more older than 20+ years. Didn't store them in any special containers.

Those minifigs that I abused from my childhood still survived despite the faded prints and scratches. After some cleaning they still look decent while those unboxed just recently are still in pristine condition. I will be passing all those to my children. Personally, it is more interesting to my children when I share the story how one of those minifigures nearly lost a hand or head compared to keeping them locked away and for displayed only. Don't get me wrong. I also value archiving. I do get where the collectors are coming from since I have a decent amount of minifigures that I rarely take out for display but it really saddens me when my son ask me if he can borrow that special minifig and I can only tell him it needs to stay in the display cabinet.

If there is any special care I would add to how I store my minifigures, it is to store them separately in individual zip locks so that they don't scratch one another while being moved from storage. Other than that I think using any plastic to store them is fine. What LEGO advised about cleaning them before storing is also true. It worked for me for over 20+ years.

Unless you are making a time capsule for your LEGO sets I think plastic bags and display glasses should be good enough to keep them safe for decades to come.

Edited by makoy
Grammar

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The concerns for plastic bags mostly relate to PVC plastics, which most action figures are made of or Polystyrene such as plastic model kits are made of. Things like soft vinyl. Lego's ABS will outlast you in most cases. The only exceptions are the special soft head pieces used for some figures and some minifig accessories. 

Really the main issue is PVC figures. PVC i.e. vinyl toys are made of a softer rubbery plastic. This material will outgas as it ages and continues to cure. Things made of this material will eventually get brittle. But allowing it to happen in a plastic bag adds to the problem. The outgassed materials just get trapped in and slowly react with the bag creating a chemical stew that your toy bastes in. 

ABS does not outgas in this manner. It is largely fully cured when it hits your hands. What little outgassing or decomposition it does is so marginal as to be a non issue. Your core Lego parts will outlast your grandkids. They will be dug up by archaeologists next Millenium. The exceptions are rubber parts. Rubber tank treads. Hoses. Special heads. Rubber bands. Those will go brittle over time. Nothing you can do to stop it. The only other deterioration that will occur is the parts will slowly yellow somewhat over time. This is caused by the Bromine based fire retardant added to the plastic. Once again nothing that you can do. It will happen. Just limit UV exposure as that will increase and hasten it. 

Weirdly butter of all things will react with ABS and cause it to get more brittle over time. Some skin oils may be similar, hence why they suggest cleaning? 

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1 hour ago, AmperZand said:

As I said in my last post, ABS is pretty acid resistant. 

What I've heard (and I'm no expert in the matter) is that the oil can mostly affect the print on the figures, not the ABS itself. I do know some people have theorized on the minifig crack epidemic thread that the oil could be a factor in some torsos cracking. I don't think the issue with the oil has to do with acid, but I'm not a chemist. :tongue:

1 hour ago, makoy said:

I have less than a dozen minifigures older than me and a lot more older than 20+ years. Didn't store them in any special containers.

Those minifigs that I abused from my childhood still survived despite the faded prints and scratches. After some cleaning they still look decent while those unboxed just recently are still in pristine condition. I will be passing all those to my children. Personally, it is more interesting to my children when I share the story how one of those minifigures nearly lost a hand or head compared to keeping them locked away and for displayed only. Don't get me wrong. I also value archiving. I do get where the collectors are coming from since I have a decent amount of minifigures that I rarely take out for display but it really saddens me when my son ask me if he can borrow that special minifig and I can only tell him it needs to stay in the display cabinet.

If there is any special care I would add to how I store my minifigures, it is to store them separately in individual zip locks so that they don't scratch one another while being moved from storage. Other than that I think using any plastic to store them is fine. What LEGO advised about cleaning them before storing is also true. It worked for me for over 20+ years.

Unless you are making a time capsule for your LEGO sets I think plastic bags and display glasses should be good enough to keep them safe for decades to come.

To be completely honest, I think it's very likely that most bags won't damage minifigs. However, I've heard bad things about bags used for short-term storage (like sandwich bags), so as a minifig collector, even the slight possibility of some damage could mean a high price to pay. Still, I am sure most bags will be fine. Personally, given that I intend to keep collecting minifigs for decades to come, I decided that I didn't want the slightest risk of damage, so I decided to be 100% safe. It's probably overkill, but I don't mind since the prices for the bags are reasonable and it gives me a little more peace of mind. :classic:

That having been said, I do see where you're coming from, and having minifigs in a more accessible way is something I've debated a couple of times. In fact, I do get repeats of some minifigs for display.

Oh, and I almost forgot, this Brickset forum is what got me looking into this, in case anyone wants to read further: http://bricksetforum.com/discussion/11375/correction-storing-minifigs-in-ziplock-bags

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Along the same train of thought, I live in japan and around here we have a time of the year (several times a year actually) that is called tsuyu (rainy season) Everything gets mold on it. Your clothes, etc. everything. I have kept my LEGO in a dark room free from much sunlight and so far their first year they have lived through that OK. But that might too because they're are also next to a washitsu(Japanese traditional room, where the Tatami mats I guess help keep the spaces dry)

I do worry though as the temperatures do shift a lot during tsuyu (very hot and very humid, or mildly cool but humid) does that affect ABS plastic very harshly very quickly? I try to keep the room these are in as clean as possible but temperature controlling the space is not possible (and pointless really as insulation is barebones here in Japan which makes that very expensive to do daily) but I wonder if this is enough to keep my collection safe. 

>< I already have issues with my PVC figures due to tsuyu. 

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7 hours ago, Japanbuilder said:

I do worry though as the temperatures do shift a lot during tsuyu (very hot and very humid, or mildly cool but humid) does that affect ABS plastic very harshly very quickly? I try to keep the room these are in as clean as possible but temperature controlling the space is not possible (and pointless really as insulation is barebones here in Japan which makes that very expensive to do daily) but I wonder if this is enough to keep my collection safe.

 

This thread  discusses the affects of temperature and temperature change on LEGO. It seems that ABS parts aren't affected by temperature extremes (-30 to +60C) except, possibly, to loosen clutch. 

Humidity in itself should have no effect on ABS parts according to this thread. I mentioned in that thread that any mould is removable with vinegar followed by a rinse of distilled or soft water (which is what tap water is in Japan) and then dried.

I don't think print would be affected by temperature or humidity, but both can permanently damage stickers. 

I'm not sure what the affect of both are on rubbery parts. I'm not sure whether vinegar will remove mould from rubber parts and if it does, if it will damage the pieces.

 

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14 hours ago, Faefrost said:

The concerns for plastic bags mostly relate to PVC plastics, which most action figures are made of or Polystyrene such as plastic model kits are made of. Things like soft vinyl. Lego's ABS will outlast you in most cases. The only exceptions are the special soft head pieces used for some figures and some minifig accessories. 

Really the main issue is PVC figures. PVC i.e. vinyl toys are made of a softer rubbery plastic. This material will outgas as it ages and continues to cure. Things made of this material will eventually get brittle. But allowing it to happen in a plastic bag adds to the problem. The outgassed materials just get trapped in and slowly react with the bag creating a chemical stew that your toy bastes in. 

ABS does not outgas in this manner. It is largely fully cured when it hits your hands. What little outgassing or decomposition it does is so marginal as to be a non issue. Your core Lego parts will outlast your grandkids. They will be dug up by archaeologists next Millenium. The exceptions are rubber parts. Rubber tank treads. Hoses. Special heads. Rubber bands. Those will go brittle over time. Nothing you can do to stop it. The only other deterioration that will occur is the parts will slowly yellow somewhat over time. This is caused by the Bromine based fire retardant added to the plastic. Once again nothing that you can do. It will happen. Just limit UV exposure as that will increase and hasten it. 

Weirdly butter of all things will react with ABS and cause it to get more brittle over time. Some skin oils may be similar, hence why they suggest cleaning? 

I also heard of the dangers of PVC, and I read that one should get bags that are PVC-free. Sadly, the manufacturers of the bags I used to have were unable to confirm their bags were PVC-free. As far as I know, most polypropylene bags are PVC-free and acid-free. I am sure Lego's plastic is immune to most of the damage other plastic figures suffer, but it seems that Lego hasn't done much testing in this regard either.

That sucks about the rubber parts. So, everyone with a "NY I Love" Yoda might one day end up with a cracking head in the figure? I'll keep that in mind before I decide to spend so much money on a figure with rubber parts. :tongue: This kind of damage has definitely happened to me on the old 9 V cables in technic sets. I have yet to find replacements.

I had never heard of the effect of butter on ABS. I agree that it might be related to the reason they suggest cleaning skin oils. It seems like sound advice.

12 hours ago, Japanbuilder said:

Along the same train of thought, I live in japan and around here we have a time of the year (several times a year actually) that is called tsuyu (rainy season) Everything gets mold on it. Your clothes, etc. everything. I have kept my LEGO in a dark room free from much sunlight and so far their first year they have lived through that OK. But that might too because they're are also next to a washitsu(Japanese traditional room, where the Tatami mats I guess help keep the spaces dry)

I do worry though as the temperatures do shift a lot during tsuyu (very hot and very humid, or mildly cool but humid) does that affect ABS plastic very harshly very quickly? I try to keep the room these are in as clean as possible but temperature controlling the space is not possible (and pointless really as insulation is barebones here in Japan which makes that very expensive to do daily) but I wonder if this is enough to keep my collection safe. 

>< I already have issues with my PVC figures due to tsuyu. 

I used to live in an area in Latin America with a rainy season too. I did have mold problems in my closet, close to where I stored my Lego in plastic boxes. I've been doing that for years, and I haven't seen mold at all in the parts inside those boxes. I also have some Lego figures and sets directly inside the closet, and nothing ever happened. I might have been lucky, though, that the cape on my Achu minifigure never got any mold. Anyways, given that it's so easy to keep minifigs with air-tight protection, and that they can be quite costly, putting them in bags gives me a little more peace of mind, especially those with capes. And as AmperZand mentioned, the humidity might be more of a problem with rubber parts or stickers.

4 hours ago, AmperZand said:

This thread  discusses the affects of temperature and temperature change on LEGO. It seems that ABS parts aren't affected by temperature extremes (-30 to +60C) except, possibly, to loosen clutch.

I would also say that cyclic temperature extremes could induce cracks on torsos. Heat expansion and contraction under cold temperatures could mess with the torso/hip connection in minifigs, causing stress increases. This kind of cyclic variation of stress is what generates failure by fatigue.

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4 hours ago, BrickHat said:

I also heard of the dangers of PVC, and I read that one should get bags that are PVC-free. Sadly, the manufacturers of the bags I used to have were unable to confirm their bags were PVC-free. As far as I know, most polypropylene bags are PVC-free and acid-free. I am sure Lego's plastic is immune to most of the damage other plastic figures suffer, but it seems that Lego hasn't done much testing in this regard either.

That sucks about the rubber parts. So, everyone with a "NY I Love" Yoda might one day end up with a cracking head in the figure? I'll keep that in mind before I decide to spend so much money on a figure with rubber parts. :tongue: This kind of damage has definitely happened to me on the old 9 V cables in technic sets. I have yet to find replacements.

I had never heard of the effect of butter on ABS. I agree that it might be related to the reason they suggest cleaning skin oils. It seems like sound advice.

I used to live in an area in Latin America with a rainy season too. I did have mold problems in my closet, close to where I stored my Lego in plastic boxes. I've been doing that for years, and I haven't seen mold at all in the parts inside those boxes. I also have some Lego figures and sets directly inside the closet, and nothing ever happened. I might have been lucky, though, that the cape on my Achu minifigure never got any mold. Anyways, given that it's so easy to keep minifigs with air-tight protection, and that they can be quite costly, putting them in bags gives me a little more peace of mind, especially those with capes. And as AmperZand mentioned, the humidity might be more of a problem with rubber parts or stickers.

I would also say that cyclic temperature extremes could induce cracks on torsos. Heat expansion and contraction under cold temperatures could mess with the torso/hip connection in minifigs, causing stress increases. This kind of cyclic variation of stress is what generates failure by fatigue.

Lego is not really going to test for it. Any such deterioration is decades outside the expected lifecycle of their products. Remember these are intended to be Toys. Children's playthings. Not historical art pieces handed down from collector to collector across the generations. Lego holds up better than most Toy products excepting maybe Die Cast cars. The rubber issues are the nature of the beast. Parts under stress or designed to stretch, such as belts, treads and rubber bands will fail long before the heads will. Do note that Lego has been largely moving away from the softer rubber heads in favor of more solid plastics. A little softer than ABS, but last much longer than the older squishy ones. 

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Thanks much everyone that has put my mind at ease. Will keep figures not on display probably split so as to delay cracks on the torsos and waist connections. 

 

 

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I think each person's bodily secretions is different based on genetics, diet, environmental factors. If you're an acidic or corrosive type of person, it might be good to wear gloves before handling LEGO with paint or print on it.  Plus you don't leave fingerprints behind that could etch into the painted surface.  Handle like curators of priceless museum paintings.  :wink:

Animals and plants can secrete waxes that are esters.  According to one material chart, esters and ABS have poor compatibilty.  Esters also reacts wtih water to produce alcohol and organic or inorganic acids which may not be great for paint.

material-compatibility-guidelines_zps6hd

 

 

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While I don't deny it's a possibility, I've never seen a minifigure that showed the kind of damage you might expect from sebum. If LEGO were susceptible to skin secretion, parts would have indelible finger prints. I'm not aware of permanent finger prints being commonplace, not even where you would most expect them, namely on older and second-hand parts.

If it were an issue, it would be widely known and discussed in fora such as this one just as the problem of discolouration is. The fact that few if any discussions of finger print removal and damage repair exist suggests that it's a non-issue.

 

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45 minutes ago, AmperZand said:

While I don't deny it's a possibility, I've never seen a minifigure that showed the kind of damage you might expect from sebum. If LEGO were susceptible to skin secretion, parts would have indelible finger prints. I'm not aware of permanent finger prints being commonplace, not even where you would most expect them, namely on older and second-hand parts.

If it were an issue, it would be widely known and discussed in fora such as this one just as the problem of discolouration is. The fact that few if any discussions of finger print removal and damage repair exist suggests that it's a non-issue.

 

I think the concern is not that the skin oils will soften melt or errode the lego. But rather long term exposure to or basting in certain oils will cause the plastic to become more brittle over time. Something that you do not typically associate with the oils. I remember one of the Lego design people clearly stating a weird little known fact that Butter is bad for ABS plastic for this reason. 

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I have it from a LEGO parts designer that they know that skin oils affect the pieces - but skin oil isn't simply skin oil. Its properties vary from person to person. So he specifically said that some people have skin oils that will affect LEGO pieces to a greater extent than other people - which is one of the reasons it's so hard to do anything with. You can't make a solution that will work perfectly with every possible skin oil from every possible person...

And as Faefrost says, it's not like an acid that leaves instant finger marks. It's a substance that makes the parts more brittle over time when they are handled regularly.

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Thanks for the insight, guys. Do you think it could explain the crack epidemic some people are seeing in minifigs? Because I would imagine oils would act more on the long term. If that was the cause, though, even people that like to handle their figures with a little less care might want to avoid placing their fingers on the lower part of the torso that experiences stress when the hips are attached.

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It's certainly a more plausible explanation to me than humidity and climate. There must be a reason why some people experience this so much, whereas others - like me, for example, are lucky and have hardly seen a single part crack. To me it makes sense - no matter how unfortunate it is - that some people are just genetically less 'compatible' with the plastic than others.

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I recently dug up most of my Lego, which were stored in a large polypropylene tub which was in a tied plastic trashbag kept in top closet shelf (hot air rises?). A few of the bricks that were stuck to tires melted a bit to take on the imprint of the tires, but the tires didn't seem melted at all. Some of the bricks had a sort of residue that didn't come off from washing with soap alone, but needed to be wiped off with paper towel.

Going forward, for tiny pieces, I'm keeping them in polypropylene Taco Bell cheesy potatoes containers with one triangular hole cut into the top lid in case gases need to escape.

Some of the gray and white oldest pieces were discolored. Most of it was in pretty good condition.

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H..i i need your help guys.. Im a bit worried about storing minifigs in PE (polyethylene)zip bags.. And currently searching for PP (polypropylene) bags with zip in the net with no avail.. But i was able to searched for this an aluminum back and a PP clear plastic in front.. Would this be ok for the minifigure? I think aluminum doesn't corrode or rust in long term 

Screenshot_20180205-165724_2_1.jpg

Edited by emramada
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20 minutes ago, emramada said:

H..i i need your help guys.. Im a bit worried about storing minifigs in PE (polyethylene)zip bags.. And currently searching for PP (polypropylene) bags with zip in the net with no avail.. But i was able to searched for this an aluminum back and a PP clear plastic in front.. Would this be ok for the minifigure? I think aluminum doesn't corrode or rust in long term 

 

Aluminium technically does corrode, but the result is a tough layer of aluminium oxide that resists further corrosion. In principle it should be fine, you sometimes get lego sets in foil packs. However, I find that if I run my fingernail over a piece off aluminium, then it picks up a slightly sticky black deposit.  I'd be wary in cse the aluminium does affect your minifigures long-term.

I'm currently in the process of swapping all my parts over to low-density polyethylene bags (after using food freezer bags... this has been a disaster and left most of my lego bricks feeling sticky :cry_sad:).  They are supposed to be completely inert, and are used by museums, etc. for long-term archival storage.  I think either polyethylene or polypropylene would be safe - after all, new Lego sets have bricks in polypropylene, but they send out pick-a-brick/bricks and pieces orders in polyethylene re-sealable bags.

Edited by NathanR

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4 hours ago, NathanR said:

Aluminium technically does corrode, but the result is a tough layer of aluminium oxide that resists further corrosion. In principle it should be fine, you sometimes get lego sets in foil packs. However, I find that if I run my fingernail over a piece off aluminium, then it picks up a slightly sticky black deposit.  I'd be wary in cse the aluminium does affect your minifigures long-term.

I'm currently in the process of swapping all my parts over to low-density polyethylene bags (after using food freezer bags... this has been a disaster and left most of my lego bricks feeling sticky :cry_sad:).  They are supposed to be completely inert, and are used by museums, etc. for long-term archival storage.  I think either polyethylene or polypropylene would be safe - after all, new Lego sets have bricks in polypropylene, but they send out pick-a-brick/bricks and pieces orders in polyethylene re-sealable bags.

Hi NathanR thanks for the reply. Thanks also for giving me the heads up on the foil pack.. From what ive understood on your reply your your switching froom freezer grade zips to low density polyethylene zip bags? Is this safe for long term storage for minifigures?

Actually all my action figures (marvel universe) 7 years are in those freezer grade zip locks.. Im still looking for a viable replacement for these.. Im starting with my lego...

I saw these PE (polyethylene) food grade bags.. Will these be ok?

Screenshot_20180205-221029_1.jpg

Edited by emramada

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4 hours ago, emramada said:

From what ive understood on your reply your your switching froom freezer grade zips to low density polyethylene zip bags? Is this safe for long term storage for minifigures?

Yes.  LDPE is supposed to be inert, it doesn't react or break down so in theory it should be safe for minifigure storage.

4 hours ago, emramada said:

I saw these PE (polyethylene) food grade bags.. Will these be ok?

Honestly, I've no idea. Anything designed for food storage isn't going to be good long term.  Supermarket food-freezer bags are typically made of an acidic plastic (possibly with a PVC component, which breaks down to release hydrochloric gas, that will attack whatever is in the bag.  Not such a problem for food being kept for a week or two, but for Lego...). There's an interesting article with recommendations here, but these are USA stores.  Personally, I've been ordering from here but I haven't had the bags long enough to know if they are any good.

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