In a modern, fast-moving city like London, it's easy to assume that things today are more convenient than ever before, that our lives are blessed with almost infinite choices. But that's not always the case. A century ago, anyone trudging around London could easily grab a mouthful of clean water or fill up a bottle or cup from one of the many hundreds of fountains installed by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, an activist organisation whose work transformed the daily lives of Victorian Londoners. Now, our only option while on the move is to buy yet another plastic bottle of water.
Why does this matter? Here in London we consume 7.7 billion bottles of water per year, and yet our recycling rate is shamefully low--less than 50 per cent. Plastic bottles clog our landfill sites and blight our rivers. They make up 10 per cent of all litter found in the Thames. The impact on marine and river life is pretty desperate: a third of all UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish, have ingested plastic, meaning that Borough Market's fish-lovers are all ingesting plastic too. Globally, the picture is increasingly bleak: it is anticipated that by 2050 the world's oceans will contain more plastic by weight than fish.
This is an extraordinary state of affairs. In the UK, fresh, clean water is an abundant resource, and there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn't be made available in ways that are less damaging to the environment--and, in a city where food poverty is a growing problem, free of charge.
That is why last week we unveiled three new water fountains in Borough Market. Each fountain provides three streams of water: two to be drunk from and one to refill water bottles. That's the first step. Over the next six months, sales of bottled water will be phased out across the Market, and instead we've produced refillable bottles made from recycled plastic, which are available to buy from stalls around the Market. Our ambition is for the Market to pretty soon be entirely plastic-free.
What this isn't is a 'water bottle ban'--we won't be frisking customers for concealed bottles of water or setting up airport-style scanners, and if you've bought a bottle of water somewhere else that's fine, but if you dispose of it here it will be recycled, and if you want to refill it you now have that option too. There's nothing wrong with buying the odd bottle of water--the problem is that if you want to have a drink, too often you have absolutely no choice but to do so. At Borough Market, our aim is to provide the alternative.
As with so much of what we do, our hope is not just to transform our estate but to provide a model for others to follow. Over the past decade we have relentlessly pursued systems of food production and waste disposal that offer an alternative to the unsustainable structures that dominate the mainstream. Here, surplus produce is distributed to local charities, food waste is sent to an anaerobic digestion plant, coffee grounds are turned into fuel logs, packaging is almost all bio-degradable and compostable, anything that can be recycled is recycled and absolutely nothing is sent to landfill. And because of our location and our national profile, we know that the measures we trial will provide food for thought far beyond our gates.
It would be fantastic if our example here could help spark a rush of new installations like those of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association. But maybe without so many cattle troughs--there simply isn't the demand these days.