1001 Water- and waste-wise ways: What's in your backyard?

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Well, we skipped into summer snapping our fingers at all the green around us, and have been brought up short: two weeks of brutal heatwave in October — before the hot, dry season even gets under way — has turned that green right back to an all-too familiar yellow and brown. My lush veggie garden is literally dying under my nose, and the rustling rocket I harvest daily has gone tough and stringy overnight. The dams have been whacked by high evaporation rates, and any hopes of slightly relaxed water restrictions (like shifting from 50 to 70 litres per person per day) have been dashed. Plus Cape Town’s water use is creeping up — we need to go in the opposite direction, good people!

By now we all know what to do, and yes, we’re a bit water-weary: I’ve been (almost) off the water grid for ten months, and sometimes I just want to fill the kitchen sink with a tap, and take a shower that doesn’t involve buckets and pressure sprayers and kettles. But we can’t look backwards, and hopefully our worst water-wasting habits (flushing with drinking water — shudder) are behind us for good.

Meanwhile, if ever we needed a stark and horrifying reminder that we have a planet to save and climate catastrophe right on our doorstep, the Garden Route and its mountains have been burning all week in a terrifying conflagration, with no respite. Lives have been lost, along with livelihoods and homes. And we have months of the worst kind of weather for fires and fighting them still ahead of us. (I’ve been trying to find out where one can make donations, but Google is not being its usual helpful self. When in doubt, give to Gift of the Givers, a wonderful NPO that always seems to be where the need is greatest.)

As you know, I’ve been thinking aloud here about what we can do as individuals when the problems are so vast and need such massive structural and economic transformation before we can even stumble towards solutions. And it comes back to the same mantra as always: think globally, act locally.

In an effort to minimise waste — especially plastic waste, which doesn’t biodegrade, can’t be safely burned, and ends up choking our seas — I’ve been looking around my own backyard. Buying produce and goods with minimal packaging, and which create jobs right here in my neighbourhood, as well as offering different and alternative economic models, even on a tiny scale, seems one small way to help. It also feels more humanising, at least to me, than supermarkets and malls.

So here are some small suggestions for the South Peninsula: tips on similar useful spots and markets elsewhere in Cape Town (and the country) gratefully received.

I’m delighted to see that the Waste-free Market under the Glencairn Hotel seems to be up and running again: last summer, this was a favourite place to buy veggies, nuts, pasta, spices, household cleaners and other goodies scooped out from vast plastic drums and glass jars, on a BYOC (bring-your-own-container) model. I’d take a basket of empty Tupperwares and paper packets, and bring them home full. I haven’t been since they’ve re-opened, but will do so and report back.

 Look, Ma, no polystyrene, no clingwrap.

Look, Ma, no polystyrene, no clingwrap.

One spot I recommend is the new Neighbourhood Farms shop at Fish Hoek Hospital: drive down past the main hospital gates and along Paris Road, and you’ll find the shade tents protecting lettuces in every shade of green and red, a row of vast raintanks, and a neat wooden one-roomed shop. Monday is a good day to get the freshest produce, I’m told. The prices are reasonable, but what I found most helpful was this poster, explaining (in a nutshell) why growing food on a vast scale for profit isn’t a good strategy, not even for the farmers co-opted into this system.

 Poster on the wall at the Neighbourhood Farms shop at Fish Hoek hospital. Would love to credit whoever wrote this.

Poster on the wall at the Neighbourhood Farms shop at Fish Hoek hospital. Would love to credit whoever wrote this.

And the next poster explains more about what I see as an alternative way of being in this broken world: food is not a luxury. Healthy food, in particular, should NOT be a luxury. Jobs should not be perks for the lucky few. To produce food primarily for purposes of profit — to enrich shareholders — seems insane. Obviously a certain amount of start-up capital is needed, and there needs to be enough capital generated to maintain and update infrastructure, and invest in new infrastructure (such as more raintanks). But surely we need to be turning to systems in which money flows through enterprises like these, rather than accumulating in them like sludge? (If this sounds naive, blame my background in indie publishing, where it feels like we all pass round the same small pile of dosh to each other, and no one ever expects to get rich.)

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Something incredibly sensible about this little shop: no cash. You can pay only with a debit or credit card. Et voila, no security hassles or anxiety about theft. I also spotted that pensioners get a ten per cent discount on the fruit and veggies.

Living in Noordhoek, I know there are other local places and opportunities to try a combination of waste-saving, healthy shopping styles: ordering organic boxes, picking your own veg, and more, but let’s save further reports for another day. Tell me all about your favourite waste-wise markets or shopping spots — and remember that this can even be the local branch of a big chain, if they sell their goods loose and encourage you to bring in your own bags and packets.

Helen Moffett