Eco-Friendly Countertop Buyer's Guide - Dengarden - Home and Garden
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Eco-Friendly Countertop Buyer's Guide

Linda is a seasoned writer and home-decorating authority. She loves sharing design trends, decor ideas, and useful tips with her readers.

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.

Granite is beautiful but not a healthy, green material.

Granite is beautiful but not a healthy, green material.

Green Concrete

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.

Use an environmentally safe mix if you decide on concrete countertops.

Use an environmentally safe mix if you decide on concrete countertops.

Scrap Aluminum

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.

These aluminum cans could be used to beautify your countertop!

These aluminum cans could be used to beautify your countertop!

Post-Consumer Plastic

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.

You could make a "peace tree", however, a post-consumer plastic countertop makes much more sense!

You could make a "peace tree", however, a post-consumer plastic countertop makes much more sense!

Recycled Glass

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.

Give your countertops the look of terrazzo with recycled glass!

Give your countertops the look of terrazzo with recycled glass!

Composite Paper

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.

Bamboo

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.

Bamboo countertops look stunning in the bath or kitchen.

Bamboo countertops look stunning in the bath or kitchen.

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

Start a Conversation!

Beth Jackson on November 11, 2013:

We really like our countertops from Web Don. We have GEOS recycled glass..it looks amazing!!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on July 30, 2012:

Thanks, tirelesstraveler. It is great there are so many countertop options besides granite, tile or laminate. Concrete counters and flooring are an excellent choice. Hope you can convince your husband! Thanks for reading and commenting!

Judy Specht from California on July 29, 2012:

Stunning counter tops . Lots of ideas that I had never heard of. I have been trying to convince my husband that cement would be nice as flooring in one of our son's rooms. I love the idea of cement for counter tops.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on July 29, 2012:

Angelo52, having not built a house in a number of years, I was not aware of the potential dangers of granite counters. I'm quite intrigued with concrete countertops these days. You can achieve so many different looks with it. Thanks for you comment and votes!

Angelo52 on July 29, 2012:

Nice article on the various types of countertops. I heard granite tops were not all that great for health purposes either. Something about granite particles.

Voted up and interesting.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on July 23, 2012:

teaches, bamboo is surprisingly durable and resistant to water if treated properly. Something to definitely consider!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on July 23, 2012:

Om, I love bamboo as well. Although the scrap aluminum is very intriguing too. And I've always been a fan of concrete countertops. This proves going green is smart and stylish! Thanks for the votes and comment!

Dianna Mendez on July 20, 2012:

I love the sink basin mounted within the bamboo in the last photo. My hubby wants to use bamboo in our guest bedroom. I was opposed to this idea, but now I may reconsider.

Om Paramapoonya on July 20, 2012:

My favorite countertop material is probably bamboo. I love its natural and casual look. All the other eco-friendly countertop materials you mentioned are also very interesting, though. Thanks for sharing this fascinating hub. Rated up and awesome!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on July 19, 2012:

Thanks Angela! The sink IS amazing. Happy you found this Hub helpful. :)

Angela Blair from Central Texas on July 19, 2012:

Love that sink -- don't think I could ever get into the recycled cans countertop -- thanks for this informative Hub. I definitely need new countertops and your information is very helpful. Best/Sis

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on July 18, 2012:

KoffeeKlatch, doesn't that counter frame the sink beautifully? I think bamboo is a wonderful countertop material too. Great to hear from you!

Susan Hazelton from Sunny Florida on July 18, 2012:

I love the look of the bamboo countertops and that sink is just beautiful. Great information Up, useful, and interesting.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on July 18, 2012:

Leah, granite is so popular these days, but mining and transporting it does put a great strain on the environment -- not to mention the off gassing issue. In doing my research, I found that bamboo does stand up well to water, it just needs to be oiled like any natural wood counter surface. Thanks for the read and comment!

Leah Lefler from Western New York on July 17, 2012:

I love these counter tops! The bamboo really appeals to me. I wonder how it holds up with frequent water splashes? The glass is very cool, too - granite is pretty, but definitely not environmentally friendly!