This story is part of CNET Zero, a series that chronicles the impact of climate change and explores what's being done about the problem.
I recently decided to stop using disposable dryer sheets and made the switch to wool dryer balls. I figured it would be a small step in my journey towards living more sustainably since they're reusable, eco-friendly, and can save energy by reducing drying time. However, since I live in the boonies, I had to turn to Amazon to make my purchase. And of course when my new wool dryer balls arrived in a giant cardboard box nestled in a sea of plastic, I felt a wave of guilt and anxiety wash over me. Would it be worth it in the long run? Yes, definitely. But it was a reminder that every time I make a purchase, it's important to consider the full life cycle of a product.
Trying to shop more sustainably is a worthy endeavor, but it can also be complicated and perplexing. Even when you buy items that are marketed as environmentally friendly, you're still purchasing new products, which means raw materials, water and energy were all used to create and ship them -- and that in itself can negatively impact the environment. Not only that, but in a world where corporations and governments are responsible for the majority of emissions, it's hard to know which brands to trust. More and more companies are guilty of greenwashing -- promoting false or misleading claims that they're environmentally friendly -- so it's important to do your research.
Your best bet for sustainable shopping is to shop locally, shop used, and to reuse and repurpose old items instead of throwing them away. However, depending on your lifestyle, your budget and where you live, that's not always possible. To that end, we've rounded up a list of products that in one way or another can help you create a more sustainable home, and perhaps even minimize your ecological footprint in the long run. Whether you're looking to reduce waste, save energy or live a healthier lifestyle, these products aim to help you make small steps towards more sustainable living.
This might be one of the most stylish reusable lunch totes we've come across. It's got a functional over-the-shoulder strip; it's not too bulky, but it's roomy enough for a lunch container, snacks, ice pack and a water bottle. It's made from recycled plastic bottles and is BPA- and phthalate-free. Plus, the insulated fabric lining helps keep food items cold or warm for hours -- great for bringing your own meals to the office or to school, especially if you've got kids who are past the Paw Patrol lunch box phase.
There are plenty of wool dryer balls out there to choose from, but I was drawn to these "smiling sheep." Not only are they ridiculously cute, but they get the job done. They've definitely cut down on drying time, especially when I need to dry towels or sheets. If you want to spend a little less, a six-pack of Smart Sheep's plain white dryer balls cost $17 on Amazon. Tip: I like to pair these with the essential oil lavender spray to give linens a light, refreshing scent.
These sheets aren't cheap, but they're ultra-breathable with a luxurious quality and feel. They're made with 100% GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) organic certified cotton from India, without the use of pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. You'll sleep better knowing that your sheets are chemical-free, nontoxic and made from responsibly sourced materials. Prices start at $98 for the twin-size 400-thread count single ply weave. A standard queen set with a 600-thread count costs $206.
As someone who enjoys my daily iced chai from Starbucks, these stainless steel straws were a worthwhile investment. They're an affordable and eco-friendly alternative to single-use plastic straws, and a whole lot better than the taste and feel of paper straws. Oxo's reusable straws are durable, lightweight, and have removable silicone tips for easy cleaning. The set comes with a small scrubbing brush -- a must if you want to thoroughly get that icky residue out.
No need to use reams of parchment paper or aluminum foil in the kitchen. This reusable Silpat baking mat is made from a fiberglass mesh with a nonstick silicone surface, and it's an amazingly great eco-friendly product. It can survive in the oven over and over again, and will save you from having to grease your baking sheets. I use a Silpat on almost a daily basis in my kitchen, whether I'm baking cookies, roasting veggies or using it as a nonstick mat when I'm kneading dough.
If you or a loved one likes to drink sparkling water, a SodaStream can be a smart investment. Not only can it help you cut costs, but it will reduce your usage of cans or single-use plastic, which is especially important considering how much recycling ends up in landfills. The SodaStream Terra is CNET's top pick for the best overall soda maker for most people, thanks to its easy-to-use manual pumps and space-saving design. (And, yes, you can ramp up the savings -- and the eco-friendliness -- by going with a different brand and using refillable CO2 tanks, but requires some DIY knowledge and effort.)
These leggings are among our top picks for working out or just lounging around. Made of 79% recycled recycled water bottles and 21% spandex, Girlfriend Collective's leggings are comfy, stretchy, and aim to be eco-friendly in an era of fast fashion. CNET's Amanda Capritto says, "I have these leggings in a medium, so although I can't vouch for other sizes, I can imagine that the pant legging fit would feel just as perfect on everyone, largely because of Girlfriend's emphasis on body inclusivity."
Don't forget your favorite furry friend! From beds to leashes to accessories and treats, our pets require a ton products, but you can help lesson their impact on the environment if you try to shop responsibly. We love The Foggy Dog's stylish collars and bandannas, but our favorite item is the plush squeaky toy. Handcrafted with recycled materials and repurposed fabric, this adorable toy is durable and well-made. And for every order, the company donates half a pound of dog food to rescue shelters.
It's reported that 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean from the land every year, and by the year 2050, it's estimated that plastic in the oceans will outweigh the fish. Green Toys makes toys from plastic that would have ended up in the water, collected from coastlines and waterways. It also makes a wide range of other playthings from 100% recycled plastic materials -- mainly milk containers. That's a sustainable system. Toys start at $10 and up and include:
Single-use water bottles have become an environmental plague -- Rothy's transforms them into a range of stylish and environmentally friendly products for men, women and kids. Though plastic water bottles aren't usually particularly colorful, Rothy's offers shoes in a variety of tasteful options, starting at $55 for kids; mens' and womens' styles start at $119. The company says it has repurposed millions of plastic bottles that were originally destined for landfills.
Adidas takes upcycled marine plastic waste, found along the coast, and uses it (instead of virgin plastic) in all its Primeblue line of apparel. The company currently sells shirts, shorts and shoes made from Parley Ocean Plastic, and has the goal of making its entire product line free from virgin polyesters by 2024. Prices start at $12 for the Terrex headband and go all the way up to $300 for the Parley bomber jacket.
Nimble makes these phone cases from 100% recycled plastic bottles and donates 5% of the proceeds to a range of environmental programs, including the Coral Reef Alliance, Carbonfund.org and SeaSave.org. Prices start at $25.
If you pack lunches for work or school, you could be going through an alarming number of disposable baggies in a lifetime. These reusable silicone Stasher storage bags can withstand the rigors of microwaves and freezers, and are also just happy to hang out in a lunchbox. Pop them in the dishwasher to clean.
Here's a slightly different approach to the plastic baggie conundrum. These designer bags are made from cotton lined with food-safe polyester. What makes them engaging are the designs: kitties, squids, turtles and mermaid scales make it fun to go eco-friendly. And, yes, they're reusable and can go in the dishwasher.
It's not just sandwich bags that haunt your home with plastic. Produce bags might seem filmy and lightweight, but they still contribute to the problem. The Flip and Tumble reusable grocery bags are made from polyester and are machine washable. The sheer mesh lets you see what's inside.
As long as we're thinking about reducing plastic and harsh chemicals used in packaging, check out these solid shampoo bars from Ethique. These natural cleaning products come in varieties formulated for oily hair, dry hair and damage control. There's even an eco-friendly cleaning shampoo bar for dogs. The company says the bars are cruelty-free, TSA-friendly and compostable. Each bar will help you feel cleaner and is supposed to be equivalent of three bottles of liquid shampoo.
Minding your own beeswax is a great idea when it comes to using beeswax-infused food wraps in place of plastic wraps or bags. These reusable food wraps are made with organic beeswax, tree resin, jojoba oil and cotton. You warm these biodegradable products up with your hands before using them to wrap food or cover a bowl or plate.
Go zero waste and turn your kitchen scraps into gardening gold with a compost scraps collector that can live on your counter top or under the sink. This particular design doesn't require the added cost and inconvenience of compostable bags. You can just clean it out with a quick scrub after emptying disposable products into your main bin..
Panasonic's reusable eneloop batteries are popular for their long life spans. It might take a little time to recharge them, but that's preferable to tossing a never-ending stream of drained batteries into the trash.
Going off the grid gets a little easier with the BioLite SolarHome 620 kit. It includes a solar panel, three overhead lights, wall-mounted light switches and a control box that also acts as a radio and gadget charger. The system could be used to bring light to a cabin or camper, or act as a backup system in case of a power outage.
If you want to give the world to someone who cares about the Earth, Mova decorative globes use solar cell technology to rotate silently with any ambient indoor light or indirect sunlight. No batteries or wires required.