Earth Day 2014: An Eco-Stravaganza of Sustainable Tips and Tricks (Part 2)

This Earth Day, the Ecocentric team is celebrating by sharing our favorite eco-friendly tips and tricks! Whether you're an old hand at ninja energy efficiency tactics or setting up your first apartment, hopefully you'll find, as we did, that there's always more to pick up by way of sustainable living. This is post 2 of 2. See post 1 here.

Bright Lights, Big (Solar) City - and Suburbs!

Shortly after we purchased our suburban cape-style house, my wife and I began to look into obtaining a rooftop solar electric system. Installed in 2006, our system is approaching its eighth birthday - it just broke the 24,000 kWh mark. It has consistently met over 50 percent of our annual electric load, saving us approximately $650 per year. Our main motivation in getting the system was to reduce our carbon footprint (as well as our water footprint, given how much water conventional power plants use). We were among the first 1,000 Long Island homes to get a solar rooftop system; today, approximately 7,000 homes have them. It's a good time to go solar; don't be dissuaded by the myths! The cost of solar panels has dropped 80 percent since 2008. In fact, most homeowners choosing solar are middle-income families looking for ways to help keep household costs down. Bonus: putting solar on your roof helps spread solar - your neighbor is more likely to go solar if you do.

-Kyle Rabin

Early last year, my husband and I had solar panels installed on our Brooklyn home. Because we are conscientious regarding the environment and minimizing our footprint, we use our rain barrels and compost out of respect for the earth that sustains us; going solar seemed a logical next step. Living in New York City, and the US in general, one cannot help but see how antiquated our energy infrastructure has become and how vulnerable natural resources continue to be. Before, we felt we were a part of the problem, adding stress to an old and aging grid, waiting for the next big blackout, adding to the demand that fracking corporations exploit. However, now on sunny days we can see our meter rolling backwards (we are very easily entertained!) and know that we are giving back to the grid rather than being syphoning burdens. It is the least we can do for an earth that provides so much, like granola!

-Weiling Fu

Inspired by Kyle and Weiling? Consult these resources to find out more!

Jars are My Jam

In my kitchen, I love reusing glass jars with metal lids. They hold the perfect amount of leftovers for one and I don't have to worry about plastic leaching chemicals into my food. Plus, glass jars cleanup better than plastic! Need to store half a lemon? Stick it in a jam jar. Want to bring soup to work? An old peanut butter or mayonnaise jar does the trick. Smaller glass containers, like an old mustard jar, are also great for storing homemade salad dressing.

-Katie Sweetman

Tonight, Make it Continental

Several years back while splurging at a nice restaurant the waiter offered water, leaving an old wine bottle on the table filled with NYC's finest tap water. It was a fancy gesture and I liked it - so much so that my wife and I saved a few wine bottles at home, filled them from the faucet, chilled them in the fridge and started drinking tap water as if it were fine vintage wine. And why not treat it as such? Clean, delicious tap water deserves to be celebrated! In fact, I decided to refer to our special new water as Continental. Classic, understated, refreshing.

It's easy to prepare. Just save a wine bottle or two, give them a thorough cleaning with a scrubber (which you can make yourself!) and invest in a few wine stoppers. Then fill them up at the tap and set aside in the fridge. Wait a couple of hours, and voila, your ordinary, lukewarm tap water has become an exclusive bottle of chilled, endlessly-refillable Continental. It goes perfectly with any meal. Bon appetit!

For a listing of some of the country's finest Continental sources, check out Environmental Working Group's Tap Water Database. And take a minute to learn why Continental is superior to bottled water you buy at the store.

-Peter Hanlon

Sprouting Homegrown Food

I love the idea of growing my own food! I grew up helping my grandparents with their big garden in Oregon, where they grew berries and vegetables and then composted their scraps. But living in NYC has left me only dreaming of the days when I might be able to put something in the ground. (Not only do I not have any ground, I don't even have a window sill with direct sunlight!) Being so completely limited, I have resorted to growing my own sprouts. It satisfies the urge to grow something and connects me to my food in a more direct way. Sprouts grow quickly, give me instant gratification, taste great and are nutritious too. My homegrown sprouts are cheaper than those in the store.

You might have everything you need to get them going right at home, too. I used an old jar, some cheese cloth and a rubber band; bought organic radish seeds for sprouting at my local coop; added some water and waited (here are some good instructions). If you have more space - a real window with sunlight, a fire escape, a stoop, yard or roof, I say give growing some of your own food a try. It's delicious and satisfying!

-Dawn Brighid