Countertops are an important element in a home, since they make a huge impact aesthetically and add value. They are also an easy way for homeowners to start incorporating eco-friendly elements into their space. There are more and more choices these days, and although most options cost more than the standard laminate, I recommend making the upgrade- it will pay off both for the environment and for your pocketbook due to the durability and impact.
Let's start with what is NOT eco-friendly: laminate and stone, the two most popular choices for countertops today.
Laminates are made of plastic-coated synthetics, and most include urea formaldehyde. If you need to go with laminate because of the low price, look for ones without the formaldehyde.
Stone options are not good for the environment because they are not renewable, and they are a massively energy and water- intensive product to produce. Yes, use of stone countertops gains some LEED points for the indoor air quality, but they are still not a responsible option when thinking of the planet.
So what are good options?
1. Composite and recycled materials - fantastic countertops made from recycled paper or glass mixed with resins or concrete to form a hard surface. They come in many colour variations, have a long life span and are heat and scratch resistant. Products include:
PaperStone - an alternative to laminate in that it looks similar but better. Made of paper, but hard as stone.
Richlite- another paper-based alternative made from both FSC certified pulp and post-consumer paper waste products.
Ecotop - the next step from the PaperStone people. Made of 50% recycled wood & paper, and 50% bamboo. The resin that binds the wood, paper, and bamboo is 100% water based, and VOC and petroleum free.
IceStone - manufactured with 100% recycled glass in a cement matrix. "It is the only durable surface in the world to receive the Cradle to Cradle™ Gold certification, which assesses products on a number of criteria, such as the use of safe and healthy materials, design for material reuse and recycling, efficient use of energy and water throughout production, and the instituting of strategies for social responsibility."
EnviroGLAS - 100% recycled glass and porcelain terrazzo.
Squak Mountain Stone - a fibrous-cement material made of recycled paper, glass and low-carbon cement. Resembles soapstone or limestone.
Environite - 90% composed of recycled glass, refractory and other commonly discarded post consumer and post industrial materials.
Fuez Glass - 100% curbside recycled glass, low-carbon cement, natural aggregate
3Form - transforms 100 percent post-consumer HDPE (high density polyethylene) into elegantly designed engineered panels
2. Recycled ceramic tile- recycled ceramics are biodegradable, inexpensive and durable.
3. Recycled stainless steel and aluminum - again, because it is a product that avoids going to the landfill, it gets the green thumbs up. Check out Alkemi, which make a countertop made of post-industrial scrap waste of the fine flakes left over from aluminum milling.
4. Bamboo - rapidly renewable, water resistant and naturally bacteria resistant. Teragren has a few different bamboo countertops to choose from that are durable and up to 154% harder than red oak.
5. Wood or butcher block - hardwoods such as maple or oak with FSC certification and use of low-VOC sealants and water-based finishes are a great choice and have a beautiful warm look. Even better is to go with reclaimed wood.
6. Glass - Glass countertops can be as simple as a transparent sheet of glass or they can be designed into translucent sheets with smooth, etched, sandblasted, patterned or grooved finishing. Most glass countertops are made of recycled glass that includes mirrors and windows. Great for a modern look.
7. Concrete, but only if recycled - concrete manufacturing is one of the most energy and water-intensive practices around, but lately some companies are coming out with recycled concrete products, replacing 80-90% of the cement with recycled cement materials. Once such company is Concrete Elegance, which uses an interesting process and makes beautiful finished counters.
I hope this helps clarify some of the green options for countertops, and I hope you consider making the switch! I would love to hear your thoughts on sustainable countertops and if you think they are worth the investment.