It’s easy to assume that living in a city means contributing to the carbon radiating from it. Cities generally have a large carbon footprint. Traffic is more dense, tall buildings use more energy and on a wind free, summer’s day in Cape Town, the smog hangs more thickly in the city bowl.
Yet cities are actually the starting point for sustainable lifestyles. People living in cities are really setting the standards for sustainable living, as the future of green cities is found in smaller living quarters that are closer together, use less energy and share large green spaces, vegetable gardens, renewable energy sources and public transport routes. Living nearer to each other makes walking and cycling more plausible options and the higher density of people moving around makes the city safer.
Cape Town’s city centre already have some of these smart living options available to its residents. You just have to know where to look and how to adjust your lifestyle slightly in order to tread more lightly in the city’s streets.
It’s the first place everyone turns to when they talk about carbon emissions, and rightly so. In Cape Town the congestion is especially dense. Luckily we have our MyCiti buses that link all the major areas in and around town. Use them. It might take you a little longer to get there, but you can use the time to read or listen to podcasts and become smarter.
The other, sometimes overlooked, aspect of the Cape Town is that it’s tiny! The CBD is about 2.5 square kilometers in total. You can practically walk everywhere. It’s good for your health, it’ll help you discover new coffee shops and restaurants and you’ll spend much less time getting angry at the other people on the road and looking for parking. You’ll even save some money.
Our eating habits play a massive role in the health of the earth. Forests are chopped down for farmland and grocery stores are importing food from all over the world even though we can live perfectly balanced lives with the food produced within our borders.
Supporting urban micro farms reduces the carbon footprint on those vegetables. Although there certainly isn’t space within the city limits to farm enough food to feed everyone, it is worth buying what you can from Oranjezicht and City Bowl markets, or at Erf81 in Tamboerskloof. Sign up for weekly veggie boxes from Harvest of Hope or Wild Organics and collect it at a pickup point in town. All these vegetables are farmed organically, on a small scale and aren’t threatening resources as much.
Buy Fairtrade certified products. You’ll find the Fairtrade label on certain coffees, teas, sugar, wine and chocolate. That’s all your indulgences catered for. Products certified by Fairtrade are products with a healthy, sustainable food chain all the way from farm to store and and farmers who were paid fairly for it. When buying fish, buy products with the MSC Ecolabel on. These have been sourced from fisheries applying sustainable fishing methods and that piece of hake is traceable all the way back to its source.
Processed products use masses of water and energy to be processed, so if you are shopping in the grocery store, avoid the pre-sliced, pre-packaged vegetables and the heavily processed meats. The closer to its whole form you can get it, the better it is for both your body and the planet. You can also shop meat at Franky Fenner’s or the meat and fish stalls at the Oranjezicht Market.
As much as many of us would like to avoid the topic, agriculture is still the main contributor to greenhouse gases, so if you can manage it, eat less meat. Eat vegetarian lunches a few days a week or join Green Monday and cut out animal products on Mondays. Milk and dairy also count, so it’ll help if you cut down somewhat on those too. The massive benefit of staying in the city is the abundance of restaurants that serve meat and dairy free meals.
A very clever saying on the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning in Cape Town’s website says ‘waste is only waste when it has no further purpose’. That little Reduce, Reuse, Recycle rhyme still rings true. Save that takeaway smoothie cup you got at the gym for when you’re running late in the morning and need to take your homemade smoothie on the road. Wash the containers of the hummus, pesto and guacamole. They make nifty mini lunch boxes for those scraps of leftovers.
Finish your food! Eat those leftovers, cook those forgotten vegetables at the back of the fridge or give it to someone who will eat it before it goes off. According to the UN, a third of the food produced on earth is wasted. We won’t need all that farmland if we don’t waste that much food.
Get yourself a travel mug. Just imagine how fewer takeaway coffee cups you’ll be throwing in the bins. Some coffee shops, like Hardpressed Café in Bree Street, even give discount if you bring your own cup.
Recycle. There’s really no reason not to. The recycling plant in Sea Point does the sorting for you, you simply have to drop off your bag of (rinsed) recyclables. Gardens Centre also has four different bins in the parking lot where you can bring your recyclables.
Use the green spaces
We’re lucky in Cape Town to be practically surrounded by greenery. Some of them aren’t even mere parks, but natural heritage sites – Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Devil’s Peak and the rest of the green strip along the peninsula. We also have the Company’s Gardens and Green Point Urban Park. A sustainable city is a city dotted with green spaces. So take a break from your frantic nine-to-five and spend a few minutes on a park bench or an early morning on the mountain. The city will certainly seem greener from here.