Last year we launched the Smart Living Challenge Zone, an interactive, gaming-oriented exhibit developed in conjunction with the City of Cape Town and Formula D Interactive. The series of games around water, waste, energy and biodiversity was designed to lead children of reading age and their parents through a learning experience – developing awareness and planting seeds of change, all for the better management of resources.

If you haven’t taken part in the challenge yet, here are some key lessons we have built into the experience.

1. Why alien species are bad

We are often told that alien species are bad for the environment, but why is that, exactly?

For one, alien plants absorb an enormous amount of water. Indigenous plants have adapted to inhabit local spaces through optimised usage of available resources; exotics adapted to do that in entirely different environments.

The Smart Living Challenge Zone Biodiveristy game uses pull-up tabs to reveal the outcomes of good and bad choices on the urban environment. Photo by Ingrid Sinclair

Alien vegetation also makes wildfires worse. According to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries: “When invading alien trees burn, the flames can be up to 15m high, often destroying houses and damaging the soil. In the case of fynbos the flames only reach 5m. Invading alien plants grow in denser stands than natural shrub preventing firefighters from putting out a fire.”

These intense fires also result in soil damage, which then exacerbates erosion when the seasonal rains arrive.

2. 19 litres of water is needed to make 1 litre of petrol

The process of refining crude oil – into petrol, or plastic, or any other oil-based product – is extremely water-intensive. Never mind the carbon emissions associated with the burning of non-renewable fossil fuels, the pressure on water resources, which are also non-renewable, is extremely intense. 

The Water game is a large touch screen interface that requires one or two participants to answer the multiple choice questions in order to fix water pipes' leaks. Photo by Kevin Newman

About 3 litres of water is needed to package 1 litre of bottled water. Think about that!

3. Clingwrap and foil – those kitchen staples – can’t be recycled

Yes, they’re reusable – and we strongly recommend that you do reuse these items if you are still using them – but the sad truth is that clingwrap and aluminium foil cannot be recycled. Our landfills are under extreme pressure – simply put, they are full – and our oceans are in the midst of a plastic crisis. Our cities, and countless others around the world are facing a waste dilemma: there is no "away". 

At the Waste game, you can scan product barcodes to reveal good and bad alternatives at the grocery store

In the end, there’s really no two ways about it: buying disposable products, including paper plates, non-rechargeable batteries and razors, is wasteful and resource intensive. Single-use should be banned from our vocabularies! But until that happens, try to minimise your single-use choices as far as possible.

4. Cigarette butts are the most common litter items in the world

There is no "away"

Haven’t kicked the habit yet? At least bin your butts. Cigarette butts do not biodegrade, they release toxins into soil and waterways, and can start wildfires.

5. Creatures of the night are awesome – and important

There’s something magical about seeing or hearing an owl. As for bats, well, that depends on personal proclivities. Either way, these nocturnal animals help maintain the biodiversty of urban areas and act as natural pest controls.

They are highly specialised animals, and both are slow breeders, which also make them highly susceptible to habitat loss and other environmental pressures. Consider installing an owl or a bat box in your garden to provide these nocturnal animals with a safe place to breed.

6. The pros and cons of our energy sources

There are good and bad things about all four major sources of energy: nuclear, coal, wind and solar. Nuclear, for example, has low carbon emissions but very high expense and poses huge threats in terms of nuclear waste and fallout. Coal, on the other hand, has high carbon emissions but is readily available in South Africa and can deliver large amounts of power quickly. 

Two players are tasked with producing energy, managing demand and balancing enviromental factors in the Energy game. Photo by Ingrid Sinclair

Wind power is low-cost and does not lead to carbon pollution, but its energy output is not always when it is needed (and it can impact negatively on birds if built in their flight paths, but overall the environmental impact is negligible to that caused by mining and burning coal). Solar power can complement wind power very nicely and its pros are numerous: low-cost, low-to-no carbon emissions and its source – sunlight - is endlessly renewable.  Both wind and solar power will be significantly advanced once large-scale storage technologies and systems (such as batteries) become more available. Renewable technologies such as wind and solar can be smaller projects and so be owned by many, as opposed to nuclear and coal which are very large scale and need to be run by governments, public utilities or multinationals

7. Demand drives production

By carefully adding up the checks and balances, decisions about city and nation planning should consider not only immediate needs, but future ones too. The demand for energy needs to be managed – with energy-saving bulbs and insulated buildings, for example – and supply needs to be consistent, all the while bearing environmental impact in mind.

You can do your bit by opting for an extra jersey instead of putting on the heater in colder months; switching your geyser off when not in use; and turning TVs and appliances off at the wall (even better: unplug them entirely) – these items keep drawing energy, even when they’re off.

8. There are better ways to be

Above all, the Smart Living Challenge Zone is about making better choices. Actively nurturing closer connections with our environments, contributing to a better world for everything - humans and non-humans alike, connecting to your food – what it’s wrapped in, how it’s disposed of … All these conscious actions result in fuller, happier lives.

Join us in making the joyful choice, every day.

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