Eco-Friendly Countertop Buyer's Guide
Many homeowners love the look of natural stone countertops, especially granite. But are you aware of the negative impact these natural stones have on the environment?
Sadly, granite scores pretty low on the “green” scale. It is not a renewable resource, which means that once it’s gone from the earth, it’s gone. In many regions, granite mining practices leave open pits that result in toxic ground water. Importing granite from other parts of the world creates a gigantic carbon footprint. Some people even believe that granite contains radioactive uranium and emits radon gasses as it breaks down over time.
Now that you're totally bummed out about natural stone, it's time to share several stylish, earth-friendly alternatives that suit your earth-friendly kitchen and bath. These countertops not only utilize recyclable and sustainable resources, they also surpass the durability of more conventional materials. In addition, you won’t have to be a bit concerned about dangerous toxins and increased carbon compounds.
Concrete countertops have been in vogue for a number of years. They look stunning, and if you choose a contractor that uses an organic concrete mix, you have hit the green jackpot. Preferable concrete mixes consist of a tiny percentage of Portland cement. Portland cement is an energy hog to manufacture. The best mixes utilize industrial waste by-products that actually create a stronger end product, and it will last just as long as natural stone.
Ground glass and stone can also be used as sparkly substitute for traditional aggregates in kitchen and bath areas. Recycled glass fiber reinforces concrete and cuts down on the need for Portland cement. Glass-fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) typically costs more than regular concrete, but you might be able to get away with using less for your countertops.
Standard concrete countertops must be poured at 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick. A GFRC mix allows for countertop thickness between 3/4 to 1 inch. It should be sealed with a water-based, food-safe polyurethane.
It's hard to believe that waste aluminum can be used as an alternative countertop option. These nature-friendly, solid surface countertops incorporate tendrils of aluminum scrap into a resin mix. This creates intricate designs that give the countertops visual impact. Sometimes scrap aluminum shavings are burned as part of the recycling process. This highly polluting step is skipped and the scraps go directly into making your new countertops.
Choose from several colors and finishes to make a unique design statement in your kitchen or bath. These counters install the same way as other solid surface materials. There is no long-term maintenance required. Minor nicks and cuts are easily removed with light sanding.
High-density polyethylene, or HDPE, is the stuff that comprises in excess of 15 percent of our landfill refuse. HDPE is a petroleum-based plastic that is used to make everything from milk jugs to Tyvek to laundry detergent bottles. It is commonly recycled to make similar products. However, environmentally conscious companies are now using post-consumer plastics to make solid surface countertops that are perfect for the kitchen and bath.
Just be advised that while they are durable, these alternatives are not designed to be used as a cutting surface or a place to set down hot cookware. As with laminate counters, always use a cutting board or trivets to protect the surface. Plastic countertops do not require a sealer and are easy to install. They come in a variety of fun colors and textures and will last for years with proper care.
If you love the look of terrazzo, you will go crazy for ecologically clean recycled glass countertops. Shards of post-consumer glass are mixed with green concrete or resin to create extraordinary counter surfaces for your kitchen and bath.
Don’t worry about the manufacturing process. It's environmentally friendly. You can choose from a variety of standard color options or create your own custom combination. This eco surface must be sealed just like concrete countertops. Resin versions will take on a mirror-like finish when polished.
Originally developed for science labs and skateboard parks, these composite paper countertops have become quite popular. Paper waste seems the most unlikely material for kitchen and bath applications. But the engineering that has gone into making composite paper countertops creates a really durable surface. Look for a manufacturer that uses 100% recycled consumer paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Waste paper fibers are combined with a water-based resin compound and compressed under extreme temperatures. Recycled paper countertops withstand water, wear just as well as solid surface materials, and come in a variety of colors. They do require regular maintenance with application of natural oil or wax to protect the surface, but that’s not much different than sealing concrete countertops.
If you fancy the warm look of wood, bamboo is a great alternative to old-growth hardwoods for your counters. Bamboo is a fast-growing, sustainable product that is highly regarded for its durability. Natural oil treatments will protect the surface and give your bamboo a lovely sheen. Simply sand away minor cut marks and scratches. It looks equally beautiful in a modern kitchen or a spa-like bathroom.
What Makes an Eco-Green Countertop?
- Healthy: Look for lead-free materials or solid surfaces such as engineered quartz or cultured marble. Avoid toxic plastic laminates and porous natural stone.
- Renewable: Certain wood species are renewable, such as bamboo. These sustainable resources are non-toxic, recyclable, and have a small carbon footprint.
- Abundant: Concrete is a green material because it is abundant everywhere on the planet. The aggregate used to make concrete is easily sourced and plentiful.
- Recyclable: You can't beat recyclable glass for a sparkling countertop. It is crushed and reused to create a form of terrazzo that is combined with concrete.
- Locally Obtained: If you live near wineries or old warehouses, you can purchase reclaimed wood products to create a gorgeous butcher block or solid wood countertops. Since reclaimed wood is locally sourced, it will keep carbon emissions down.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Linda Chechar