How Borough Market promotes sustainable approaches to production, consumption and waste
Borough Market’s approach to sustainability goes far beyond the usual platitudes. Its mission is to explore methods of production, consumption and waste disposal that have a positive impact on the wider environment, while using its national profile to encourage others to do the same.
The Market’s aim is to put every leftover piece of food or packaging to the best possible use—to see raw materials where others see refuse. Nothing goes to landfill. All cardboard, paper, plastic, glass or wood is recycled. Borough’s partnership with the charity Plan Zheroes means that surplus produce from many of the stalls ends up being distributed to local charities, rather than being thrown in the bin. Around 600kg of spent coffee grounds are collected each month to be transformed into biofuels and fertiliser, some of which is put to use in the Market Hall’s planting beds. All remaining food waste is sent to an anaerobic digestion plant—a facility that uses microorganisms to break down organic material and turn it into power, fertiliser and water.
The eradication of single-use plastic from the Market has been a particular focus in recent years. Single-use plastic bottles are no longer sold anywhere on the estate, and the three water fountains that were installed in 2017 are now being used by visitors to supply a volume of water equivalent to 1,750 standard bottles per day—a fourth fountain is on its way in 2020. In 2019, Borough became the first food market in the UK to replace plastic carrier bags with a fully biodegradable alternative, made from GM-free cornstarch. It is even possible to buy cling film made from local beeswax rather than plastic at the Borough Market Store.
Throughout the Market, traders use as little packaging as possible, and when it is needed it is often either biodegradable or compostable. Most of the produce is sold loose—an approach that reduces food waste as well as cutting down on plastic—and many traders actively encourage customers to bring their own bags, cups, cutlery and containers. Even granola can now be bought at the Market free of packaging.
Demonstrating the sustainability of their work is one of the main challenges for any business wishing to trade at Borough, but the Market is not prescriptive in dictating how they go about this. Instead, traders are given the latitude to take their own direction and tell their own stories, many of which you will find on this website. The common thread is that all of them, in one form or another, promote alternatives to mainstream methods of food production and consumption that can make a real difference to the planet. For producers, this means using approaches that value quality and sustainability over profit. For consumers, it means eating with the seasons, questioning the provenance of ingredients, favouring pasture-fed meat, prizing meat and fish as items of value rather than everyday staples, buying only what’s needed and eating every bit of it.