KPMG to remove all plastic water cups across UK offices

20 April 2018 6 min. read
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KPMG has become the latest global entity trading in the UK to pledge to reduce plastic waste in its offices, by removing all plastic water cups from its UK locations. Following the broadcast of the BBC’s landmark series Blue Planet II, the UK Government and corporations doing business in Britain have come under pressure to cut down their use of plastics, which are having a catastrophic effect on global oceans.  

The use of plastic in a wide range of industries and sectors has seen the planet flooded by the material. While plastic is light, cheap and versatile, making it a keystone material for disposable packaging and utensils, it is often impregnated with toxins and leaked into the natural environment. The ever pervasive use of plastic packaging is subsequently resulting in an environmental disaster and, at current rates of growth, plastics will consume around 20% of all oil by 2050, emitting around 15% of the annual global carbon budget. Meanwhile, leakage into waterways will mean that there is more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, according to a recent McKinsey & Company study.

As part of a concerted public and private sector push to reduce the UK’s plastic consumption, Bill Michael, Chairman and Senior Partner at KPMG UK, recently took to Twitter to confirm that, “Following a successful trial in our Manchester office, KPMG will remove all plastic water cups from our 22 offices by September. This initiative is one of many we’re introducing to cut down our use of plastic.”

The Big Four accounting and consulting firm removed all plastic cups from around the water coolers in its Manchester office, where it first trialled the initiative, while KPMG’s 1,100-strong Mancunian contingent were instead  provided with reusable water bottles. Of that total staff, over 900 employees have so far taken up the firm’s offer of a reusable water bottle. Should they misplace this, or decide not to use it at all, KPMG now loans them a recyclable paper cup for around 50p, something which fewer than 10 employees opted to do on the first day of the scheme.

KPMG to remove all plastic water cups across UK offices

The success of the plan at KPMG’s Manchester office means the firm will now extend the scheme across its UK network by September. Alongside the environmental impact the measures will have, the firm will also benefit financially from the plan. Prior to this, KPMG estimated that it used 3 million plastic cups for water every year, at a cost of £60,000, meaning it also expects to recoup the cost of providing reusable water bottles within 18 months of rolling out the scheme nationally. The firm uses further 3 million plastic cups in its hot drinks machine annually, so KPMG additionally plans to remove these plastic cups as well, although it is still in the process of deciding whether to switch to paper or compostable plastic alternatives.

In terms of supply chain change, KPMG has also begun removing plastic cutlery from its regional offices, with 260,000 plastic items removed so far this year. Should this project prove as fruitful as its efforts to tackle plastic cup waste, the firm will also remove plastic cutlery from its larger offices.

Louise Edge, Senior Oceans Campaigner at environmental group Greenpeace, said, “KPMG's commitment is the latest in what is becoming a global trend for businesses to eliminate throwaway plastic. Plastic can be found throughout the world’s oceans, from whole bottles and pieces of packaging to tiny micro-plastics. We all need to stop thinking of plastic as a disposable resource. A huge reduction in the amount of single-use plastic packaging we're producing and using is vital.” 

Plastic Beach

KPMG’s decision to cease using plastic cups comes as part of a chain-reaction, after the BBC aired the documentary series Blue Planet II last year. According to the firm, the landmark series, hosted by national broadcasting institution David Attenborough, prompted a number of KPMG staff to question the firm’s approach to the environment and, in particular, its use of plastic. Pressure from staff to adopt a more proactive approach to protecting the environment seems to have paid off swiftly.

Drawing a viewership of almost 12 million in Britain, Blue Planet II’s series climax ‘Our Blue Planet’, which aired in mid-December 2017, highlighted how plastic is damaging the world’s oceans, with 8 million tonnes of plastic waste entering the marine ecosystem each year. The episode, which depicted albatross parents unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic and mother dolphins potentially exposing their new-born calves to pollutants through their contaminated milk, shocked viewers watching at home.

Since then, the UK Government, which due to last year’s poor electoral performance is already in a weakened state, was quickly pressured into action by the public outcry resulting from the episode. While the target is distant, Theresa May, has pledged to eradicate avoidable plastic waste by 2042 – a goal which will come to fruition just two years after the country’s ban on the sale of combustion engine powered vehicles. In February, meanwhile, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office became the first government department to announce a ban on single-use plastics across its operations by 2020, as well as raising its so-called “latte levy” from 10p to 50p to encourage staff to use their own mugs instead of disposable ones.   

Following the lead of the UK Government, KPMG is just one of a growing number of corporations determined to cut its plastic waste output rapidly, marking a sea change in attitudes to the harmful waste. Other entities to cut back on plastic use include fast-food chain McDonald’s, which pledged to remove plastic straws from across its UK restaurants. Starbucks courted controversy by rolling out a pilot project charging 5p to customers for using their single-use cups, rather than altering the materials utilised in their creation. The world's biggest coffee chain distributes over 4 billion plastic-lined cups a year around the world, which are not easily recyclable, and some suggested the company had subsequently passed the buck to consumers.

Related: Global effort needed to tackle plastic recycling waste issues