Turning the tide

Success in my fight against single use plastics

We’ve been inundated this year about the impact of plastic pollution to the environment. Whether it’s images of sea creatures trapped in throwaway plastic containers or once pristine beaches now overcome with mountains of waste, it’s hard not to feel a sense of anger at the devastation that our wasteful society is inflicting on the natural world.

As I’ve become aware of the plastics crisis over the past two years, I’ve made changes to my lifestyle to avoid consumption of single use plastics as practically as possible. Recently I’ve taken this a step further and have started writing to company directors asking them to start cleaning up their act.

Nowhere more so was the issue of single use plastic consumption more evident than at my old workplace at J.P Morgan. I grew increasingly frustrated at the alarming amount of waste our team was generating, in particular plastic utensils and coffee/plastic cups. I was in disbelief as I tried to imagine the levels of daily waste from my own team scaled up to the 8 000 people in the office (and 16 000 across the country).

I tried to convince my own team to change their ways to purchase reusable containers, but before long figured that to make impactful change, action needed to come for the top. Over a few weeks I hunted through the corporate directory for the most senior director who could take action, and drafted and re-drafted an email to send him (I’ve removed this person’s name for confidentiality).

The email

Re: Reducing single-use plastics

Dear <<Head of J.P. Morgan Global Real Estate >>,

I’ve been working in the London CIB Technology team since joining the firm as an intern seven years ago.

Like many of my colleagues, I’ve become increasingly concerned about my environmental footprint in the workplace and at home.

As the management team frequently highlight, it’s everyone’s responsibility to demonstrate first-class business in a first-class way. Along with maintaining the highest standards and acting with integrity with our clients, operating in a first-class way should also reflect the need to minimise our environmental impact in all facets of our business.

The firm has already made excellent progress committing to sourcing 100% sustainable, renewable energy by 2020. Yet our sustainability program omits reference to addressing the unsustainable consumption of single-use materials, particularly plastics, on our office premises. The carbon footprint associated with producing these materials and the resulting waste is contributing to severe degradation of the environment. Most plastics are not bio-degradable, and despite only a few minutes of use, the discarded waste will outlive us all – often in a landfill or the ocean.

Based upon my experience working at the 25 Bank Street office, there are four key observations and suggestions I’d like to share:

1)      Our office pantries and cafeterias are stocked with large quantities of single use plastic cups and plastic-lined hot beverage cups, which are typically discarded within minutes of use. We should encourage colleagues to purchase their own reusable beverage containers, and to enforce this the firm should stop supplying disposable beverage containers in office pantries entirely. Taking this approach would be a ‘win-win’ situation: lower supplier and maintenance costs, reduced carbon-footprint and significantly reduced waste. Indeed, last month KPMG announced a similar ban on plastic cups policy within their offices.

2)      Similarly, our cafeterias only stock plastic knives, spoons and forks for takeaway. Bio-degradable, plant-based cutlery is readily available from alternative suppliers at comparable costs.

3)      The sale of bottled water within office locations should be prohibited due to its unpriced negative externalities. According to researchers, it requires 2000 times more energy to produce the plastic bottle equivalent of tap water, 3 times the volume of water and a quarter filled bottle of oil to produce the container in the first place. Considering the excellent availability of filtered water on our office premises, the consumption of bottled water cannot be justified.

4)      Most restrooms across our London offices supply paper towels as opposed to high-speed hand dryers. At least twice a day I observe our cleaning colleagues disposing of large bags of paper towels from the restrooms, which is a large source of paper waste generated by our offices. The latest generation of hand dryers are efficient, durable, and over a 5-10 year timeframe are typically more cost effective to maintain. Our real-estate teams should conduct a review into the practicality and hygiene aspects of deploying hand dryers to replace paper hand-towels across the board.

Finally, our business principles should explicitly reference the important need to safeguard the environment, to instil into our teams the value of an environmentally-sustainable operation. Everyone at J.P. Morgan is impacted by the serious challenges of climate change and pollution, and each of us has a role to play to mitigate these challenges to protect the future of our firm and the planet as whole.

I feel there is a huge opportunity for J.P. Morgan to lead the way in championing positive sustainability efforts. By carefully reviewing our use of plastics – a hot topic in the press and on government agendas currently – not only will we boost our environmental credentials amongst our clients, but as a leader in the financial services industry it will inspire change amongst our competitors too, which will make the impact of our endeavours much more far-reaching.

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,


The response

In the weeks that followed I continued to press the senior management team via email and phone calls for progress on the matter. Prior to leaving the firm in July, there was agreement that the current plastics situation was unsustainable and I was promised that a strategy would be launched later in the year.

In mid-October, the below email (paraphrased) was sent to all employees at the 25 Bank Street headquarters:


As part of the firm’s ongoing commitment to environmental sustainability and in response to employee feedback, paper and plastic cups in the kitchen area on floors across Bank Street will soon be permanently removed.

Please join in the action to combat plastic pollution by bringing in your own reusable cups, water bottles and mugs.

Additionally, in the coming weeks, J.P. Morgan is aiming to switch to compostable cutlery, remove paper cups from existing catering outlets and eliminate all plastic bottle sales from our U.K offices.

Thank you in advance for your continued support,

<<Head of Global Environmental and Social Risk Management>>

Ramping up my campaigning

While writing my original email, I could not have imagined such a significant and prompt response. Although some of my observations are still pending (such as the request to amend the firm’s code of conduct), other suggestions have been more than fulfilled. I couldn’t have imagined that all plastic bottles – not just water bottles – would be removed from sale this year.

Sometimes, it’s easy to lose hope and resign to the fact that as individuals, we’re too small to resolve some of the pressing issues in the world today. But it’s time for us all to have the courage to question perceived norms within our society rather than just accepting them at face value. If we frame our views in a way that is logical, polite and insightful, we can start to make even the largest corporations take notice, and take action.

I don’t attribute this success entirely to me – much credit goes to the CSR team at JPM for following through with my suggestions. Yet, though this is a small success in the context of a huge problem, it feels like a personal victory and a huge morale boost to expand my campaigning efforts further. I look forward to launching my new campaign against single use plastics in supermarkets and will be sharing further details soon.

In the meantime, if you see similar unsustainable use of single use products in your day-to-day life, whether it’s inside or outside of your workplace, don’t be afraid to speak up. At worst, you’ll have lost a few minutes of your time, but at best, you’ll be helping society turn the tide of plastic waste and help the environment prosper once more.


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