Solar panels get a bad rap for being inaccessible and let’s face it, the average person usually can’t afford to shell out thousands upon thousands of dollars to purchase, install, and use solar panels in their house. Often modern environmentalism is only accessible to the rich. While the social responsibility falls on us all, the solutions are not always accessible to all of us.

That doesn’t have to be the case. Environmentalism is a social justice issue. Climate change disproportionately affects lower-income communities. Sustainability is for everyone. Environmental responsibility CAN be accessible to all. Solar panels aren’t just for the wealthy anymore. For many of us, environmental change must start on the small scale. It takes everyday changes to large-scale shift.

While solar energy has a bad reputation for being expensive, it’s a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. It’s a way that we can cut down on fossil fuels and batteries. It’s a step in the right direction towards sustainable energy. Solar energy doesn’t have to be super expensive. Here are six small solar panels in everyday items that prove that everyone can lead a more sustainable life.

1 Solar Backpacks

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Solar backpacks have a flexible (and often waterproof) solar panel on the outside of the bag. The panel collects light throughout a day of outdoor activities like hiking or biking. That energy is stored and can be used later to charge electronics, power lights, or provide emergency power. Six hours of sunlight exposure can give the backpack enough energy to charge your phone twice or to run an emergency light for 14 hours. They’re a great way not only to make an item that you already use more sustainable but also to keep your electronics charged when you need them.

2 Solar Cellphone Chargers

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You no longer need an outlet to charge your phone. Companies are developing solar cellphone chargers that plug into mini solar panels. You can now use the sun to charge your phone. There are already quite a few of these solar chargers on the market and we’re starting to see the emergence of some pretty cool ones.

Some solar chargers are powerful enough to charge an iPhone 6 two and a half times with a single solar charge. Some have multiple outlets so you can charge more than one device at a time. And some even stick to windows to provide convenient access to sunlight, as well as an unobtrusive setup for your home.

Most of us charge our smartphones every day. So, solar chargers are a great way to utilize solar energy for something we’ll actually use. They’re a practical and relatively inexpensive solar panel for day to day life.

3 Solar Water Heaters

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Solar water heaters are on the slightly pricier side without being outrageous. They’re an alternative to the electric or gas water heaters most of us already have in our houses. These heaters use solar panels to heat the water. The device then delivers the water and stores it in the tank.

While these devices are a much larger commitment than something like a phone charger, using one often makes you eligible to receive a tax deduction from the government.

4 Outdoor Solar Lights

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For those of us who have lights lining our backyard or garden, outdoor solar lights are a great way to achieve the same nighttime effect without the lighting bill. These lights are generally small, inexpensive and easy to install. They are also while cute and effective. During the day, these devices collect sunlight and store the energy. Once the sun goes down, they use that stored energy to light your chosen outdoor area. Many of them are also automatic, which means they go through this whole process by themselves—no need to worry about turning them on and off.

5 Solar Reading Lamps

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The solar reading lamp functions similarly to the outdoor lights but was created for indoor use rather than outdoor. When placed near a window or a light source, they collect and store the energy. That energy from the sun powers the light later.  Many of these lights are small and portable making them easy to move, store and fold away when you’re not using them.

6 Solar Powered Camera Strap

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While it’s still in the prototype phase, this is an exciting solar-powered invention for the environmentally conscious photographer. Invented by Weng Jie, the camera strap contains mini solar panels which collect sunlight that is then used to power the attached camera. The camera is completely powered by solar energy.

This invention is still in the early stages, however, as the device only works while in direct sunlight. Weng has yet to develop a system where devices can store energy so that they can be used in dark or cloudy spaces. Nevertheless, this device gives us hope for the development of more small solar-powered devices in the future.

Edited by Chloe Lew

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