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Easy product swaps to help you live a more eco-friendly life

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(CNN) —  

If you’re trying to live sustainably in 2020, there are tons of easy swaps that can make your life more environmentally friendly. Reducing plastic waste is a crucial problem for today’s environment, and whether it’s recyclable and biodegradable phone cases or sustainable fashion, there are plenty of eco-friendly substitutes for the plastic products you use every day.

Since going completely zero waste can be daunting, we asked for advice from Danielle Jezienicki, the director of sustainability at Grove Collaborative, a flexible, recurring shipment service for tons of environmentally friendly products.

“In truth, there is no such thing as throwing plastic ‘away,’” Jezienicki says. “Plastics, be that your ChapStick or your toothbrush, take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to decompose into harmful microplastics that work their way into soil, water and, ultimately, all forms of life.”

When it comes to simple solutions, Jezienicki says her favorite kinds of swaps provide elegant solutions that get you out of a wasteful system. One of her favorite examples is sustainable laundry. By replacing plastic detergent bottles with reusable and recyclable products, you’re cutting tons of single-use plastic out of your life. Just make sure you’re looking for laundry detergent that’s free from harmful chemicals and added fragrances.

Jezienicki also recommends washing with cold water and drying for less time to ensure carbon and energy savings. Ahead, Jezienicki walks us through her eco-friendly tips and tricks for laundry, cleaning products and more.

Eco-friendly laundry

Auto-Dosing Laundry Detergent Dispenser ($17.95; grove.co)

Auto-Dosing Laundry Detergent Dispenser
Auto-Dosing Laundry Detergent Dispenser

“Our reusable glass laundry vessel is actually a beautiful product that enables one-handed pouring (hello, moms, I know you appreciate this one!) and is the last laundry container you will ever need,” Jezienicki says.

Ultra-Concentrated Liquid Laundry Detergent ($9.95; grove.co)

Ultra-Concentrated Liquid Laundry Detergent
Ultra-Concentrated Liquid Laundry Detergent

This concentrated liquid allows you to use much less detergent than you normally would, making this bag last longer than traditional options. The detergent comes in three natural scents, plus these detergent bags are 100% recyclable so you can reduce your plastic waste.

Dropps Stain & Odor Laundry Detergent Pods (starting at $24; dropps.com)

Dropps Stain & Odor Laundry Detergent Pods
Dropps Stain & Odor Laundry Detergent Pods

These detergent pods come in a 100% recyclable, repulpable and compostable cardboard box. Plus, the pods are compatible with all machines, made without any harmful chemicals and naturally scented.

Smart Sheep Wool Dryer Balls ($16.95; amazon.com)

Smart Sheep Wool Dryer Balls
Smart Sheep Wool Dryer Balls

Reduce drying time by simply throwing dryer balls in with your next load, making the drying process shorter. These balls lower energy use, make your clothes super soft and are reusable so you won’t have to throw them away like dryer sheets.

Laundry Swaps ($26.90, originally $36.80; grove.co)

Laundry Swaps
Laundry Swaps

You can also purchase a sustainable laundry starter kit from Grove, which includes detergent, a dispenser, a stain remover spray and a wrinkle remover spray, all safe to use and better for the environment than what you normally pick up at the store.

Cleancult Complete Liquid Laundry Bundle ($49.99, originally $64.94; cleancult.com)

Cleancult Complete Liquid Laundry Bundle
Cleancult Complete Liquid Laundry Bundle
PHOTO: Cleancult

Cleancult sells reusable glass containers along with proprietary cleaning solutions made with coconut oil and other plant-based ingredients. This bundle can revamp your laundry routine with a container, four detergent refills in plastic-free cartons, a silicone funnel and three wool dryer balls.

Blueland Laundry Starter Set ($18; blueland.com)

Blueland Laundry Starter Set
Blueland Laundry Starter Set
PHOTO: Blueland

Blueland uses dissolvable tablets that turn into everyday cleaning products, in turn eliminating single-use plastics from your routine. This laundry starter set comes with a steel tin and 40 laundry tablets that you can drop right into the washing machine for a fresh clean.

Tru Earth Eco-Strips Laundry Detergent ($16.95; amazon.com)

Tru Earth Eco-Strips Laundry Detergent
Tru Earth Eco-Strips Laundry Detergent
PHOTO: Amazon

Another plastic-free option, Tru Earth’s laundry strips dissolve in the washer to provide an easy alternative to traditional detergent. Plus, the strips are lightweight, making them a great pick if you have to go up and down flights of stairs or around the corner to the laundromat.

Cutting down on paper

While Jezienicki loves the simplicity of alternative laundry solutions, there are other areas of the home where sustainable switches are more pressing. The biggest swap she thinks everyone should make is reducing the use of paper products.

“They are massively problematic in terms of their contribution to deforestation,” she says. “Switch from traditional products (toilet paper and paper towels) to recycled or bamboo alternatives such as Grove’s Seedling.” Using materials like bamboo reduces deforestation, since bamboo grows much faster than trees.

Besides paper products, Jezienicki recommends examining your life for any wasteful products you use a lot and trying to replace them with more eco-friendly options. Check out some of the handiest swaps:

Tushy Classic Bidet ($89, originally $109; hellotushy.com)

Tushy Classic Bidet
Tushy Classic Bidet
PHOTO: Tushy

One way to drastically reduce your paper waste is to cut down on toilet paper. A simple solution is to make the switch many made during quarantine and invest in a bidet. This bidet from Tushy is easy to install and will change the way you go to the bathroom forever. Trust us: We tried it ourselves and loved it.

Who Gives a Crap Toilet Paper (starting at $30; us.whogivesacrap.com)

Who Gives a Crap Toilet Paper
Who Gives a Crap Toilet Paper
PHOTO: Who Gives A Crap

3-Ply Jumbo Roll Tree-Free Toilet Paper ($15.95; grove.co)

3-Ply Jumbo Roll Tree-Free Toilet Paper
3-Ply Jumbo Roll Tree-Free Toilet Paper

Made from 100% responsibly grown bamboo, this toilet paper is soft and sturdy. Plus, it’s safe for septic tanks and comes in plastic-free, fully recyclable packaging.

Seventh Generation Toilet Paper ($27.58, originally $34.99; amazon.com)

Seventh Generation Toilet Paper
Seventh Generation Toilet Paper

This toilet paper option is made from recycled paper with no added dyes, inks or fragrances. It’s also septic-safe and comes in 100% recyclable packaging (yes, the plastic wrapping is recyclable too).

Bambooee Reusable Bamboo Towel ($12.99, originally $15.99; amazon.com)

Bambooee Reusable Bamboo Towel
Bambooee Reusable Bamboo Towel

These reusable paper towels are made out of bamboo, so once you use one, you don’t throw it away; you just wash it. Machine-washable up to 100 times, they’re long-lasting and super absorbent.

Swedish Dishcloth Cellulose Sponge Cloths, 10-Pack ($19.95, originally $24.99; amazon.com)

Swedish Dishcloth Cellulose Sponge Cloths, 10-Pack
Swedish Dishcloth Cellulose Sponge Cloths, 10-Pack
PHOTO: Amazon

Swedish dishcloths have been popping up all over the internet, so much so that we just had to try them ourselves. The super-absorbent, reusable cloths are good for cleaning, scrubbing and anything else you’d use a normal paper towel for.

Who Gives a Crap Tissues, 12 Boxes ($16; us.whogivesacrap.org)

Who Gives a Crap Tissues, 12 Boxes
Who Gives a Crap Tissues, 12 Boxes
PHOTO: Who Gives A Crap

Another household paper product that’s easy to replace is tissues. This alternative from Who Gives a Crap uses bamboo for a strong and soft tissue that’s made without harming trees.

The easiest switches to make

“The easiest switches are the things you are excited about because you have found a solution that works for you or solves another problem,” Jezienicki says. Think bamboo toothbrushes, soap bars, stasher bags and more. We followed Grove’s advice and came up with some of our favorite switches.

The Dirt All-Natural Tooth Powder, 3-Month Supply ($19.99; amazon.com)

The Dirt All-Natural Tooth Powder, 3-Month Supply
The Dirt All-Natural Tooth Powder, 3-Month Supply

Instead of using normal toothpaste that comes in plastic packaging, try this tooth powder. All you have to do is tap a damp toothbrush into the powder, then brush like you normally do. We know it sounds weird, but it’s a really good swap for the plastic toothpaste tube you use every day.

Davids Natural Recyclable Toothpaste ($9.95, originally $12; amazon.com)

Davids Natural Recyclable Toothpaste
Davids Natural Recyclable Toothpaste

This premium, natural toothpaste comes in a metal tube, so once it’s cut open and rinsed, it can be recycled. Even the box and the little plastic cap are 100% recyclable.

Stasher 100% Silicone Reusable Bag ($11.99; amazon.com)

Stasher 100% Silicone Reusable Bag
Stasher 100% Silicone Reusable Bag

These silicone reusable bags replace plastic ones. Available in varying sizes, they’re perfect for storing a quick snack or bulk food. “The other thing I love is carrying a stasher bag with me to the farmers market or out to eat, for leftovers,” Jezienicki says. “It folds flat and creates zero waste or recycling — plus you have a snack on hand!”

Redecker Tampico Fiber Dish Brush ($11.99; amazon.com)

Redecker Tampico Fiber Dish Brush
Redecker Tampico Fiber Dish Brush
PHOTO: Amazon

Did you know sponges are actually made from a form of plastic? And not only do they take a long time to decompose in a landfill, but washing dishes with a sponge releases tiny microplastics into the water. Ditch the traditional sponge and opt for this tampico fiber dish brush instead. It’s made of materials that can be composted and recycled, and when the brush hairs wear down, you can easily buy a replacement head.

Full Circle Bamboo Dish Brush ($7.07, originally $8.30; amazon.com)

Full Circle Bamboo Dish Brush
Full Circle Bamboo Dish Brush

Or you can opt for this more compact bamboo dish brush with bristles made from recycled plastic. Its ergonomic design fits right in your hand so you can scrub even the most stubborn dishes.

Annvchi Travel Camping Cutlery Set ($7.63; amazon.com)

Annvchi Travel Camping Cutlery Set
Annvchi Travel Camping Cutlery Set
PHOTO: Amazon

If you eat out and use a lot of disposable plastic flatware, why not try these reusable stainless steel alternatives? This pack comes with a knife, fork, spoon, chopsticks, two straws and a straw cleaner, all in a nifty case so you can bring it everywhere you go.

Beeswax Food Wraps ($18; amazon.com)

Beeswax Food Wraps
Beeswax Food Wraps

Handcrafted in Vermont, these beeswax food wraps can replace plastic wrap. Store fruit or loose food, or cover a bowl with these wraps. They’re washable, so you can reuse them before you eventually throw them in the compost.

Earth Junky Produce Bags ($19.95; amazon.com)

Earth Junky Produce Bags
Earth Junky Produce Bags

Instead of taking single-use plastic bags from the store for your produce, try these reusable produce bags. This seven-piece set comes with an assortment of muslin and mesh bags for varying sizes of produce.

18-Ounce Yeti Rambler (starting at $39.15; amazon.com)

18-Ounce Yeti Rambler
18-Ounce Yeti Rambler

Using a reusable metal water bottle reduces the need for plastic containers. Dishwasher-safe and made with double-wall vacuum insulation, this water bottle can keep your beverage cold all day. Plus, it was our runner-up for the best water bottle of 2020. We loved its durability and ability to keep drinks cold all day.

20-Ounce Hydro Flask Coffee With Flex Sip Lid ($34.95; hydroflask.com)

20-Ounce Hydro Flask Coffee With Flex Sip Lid
20-Ounce Hydro Flask Coffee With Flex Sip Lid
PHOTO: Hydro Flask

Hand your local coffee shop a reusable bottle instead of taking a paper or plastic cup you’ll throw away. This Hydro Flask coffee cup is vacuum-insulated and made with long-lasting stainless steel.

Brush With Bamboo Toothbrush, 4-Pack ($16.99, originally $17.99; amazon.com)

Brush With Bamboo Toothbrush, 4-Pack
Brush With Bamboo Toothbrush, 4-Pack

This soft-bristled brush is plant-based and organic. Instead of sitting in a landfill or floating in the ocean, the bristles and the packaging can be recycled, and the handle and the bioplastic wrapper can be composted.

Vikings Blade Stainless Steel Razor ($28.97, originally $42.97; amazon.com)

Vikings Blade Stainless Steel Razor
Vikings Blade Stainless Steel Razor

Switching to a stainless steel razor is a great way to get rid of the unnecessary waste of plastic disposables. The single blade provides just as close a shave, and since the razor is made from Swedish steel, it’s built to last a lifetime. The replacement blades are also stainless steel so they can be recycled when worn out.

Biodegradable Dental Floss With Refillable Glass Holder ($9.99, originally $12.99; amazon.com)

Biodegradable Dental Floss With Refillable Glass Holder
Biodegradable Dental Floss With Refillable Glass Holder

If you floss (which you really should), here’s a great replacement for the normal plastic strings. The 100% silk floss is waxed and has a mint flavor. The packaging is recyclable and the floss is compostable.

Rocky Mountain Barber Company Wooden Comb ($11.99; amazon.com)

Rocky Mountain Barber Company Wooden Comb
Rocky Mountain Barber Company Wooden Comb

Wooden combs are an easy switch from their plastic counterparts. This anti-static, no-snag, handmade comb is crafted out of pearwood and is fully compostable.

Desert Breeze Wooden Hairbrush ($36.50; amazon.com)

Desert Breeze Wooden Hairbrush
Desert Breeze Wooden Hairbrush

With a pearwood handle and boar hair bristles, this sturdy hairbrush is all natural. Made in Germany by a shop with a 100-year history, this brush is a great sustainable alternative and compostable.

Aspen Kay Dead Sea Mud Soap Bar ($9.45; amazon.com)

Aspen Kay Dead Sea Mud Soap Bar
Aspen Kay Dead Sea Mud Soap Bar

Instead of buying plastic bottles of body wash, try using a soap bar. There are tons of all-natural options, but we love this one because it’s organic and chemical-free. It’s made with Dead Sea mud, charcoal, shea butter and other natural ingredients.

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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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