Countertops are an important element in a home, since they make a huge impact aesthetically and add a lot of value. They're also a good way for home owners to start incorporating eco-friendly elements into their space. There are more and more choices for environmentally-friendly countertops these days, and although the 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 durability and the impact it will have on your home.
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 great for the environment as they're 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, and that combined with the durabaility of quartz (as it will likely last the lifetime of the home) does win it some points. But stone is still not a responsible option for the planet overall.
So what are the best eco-friendly countertop options?
1. Composite and recycled material countertops
If you like the look of quartz, composite quartz is the way to go. Composite countertops are 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:
Eco: Eco by Cosentino consists of 75 percent postindustrial or postconsumer materials and looks a lot like quartz in certain colours. Its nonporous surface needs no sealant, which makes it low maintenance like quartz as well.
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."
PaperStone: PaperStone is made of 100 percent post-consumer paper fused with a petroleum-free resin derived from cashew liquids. The material more closely resembles wood than stone, making it easy to work with.
Richlite- another paper-based alternative made from both FSC certified pulp and post-consumer paper waste products.
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.
Bio glass is 100 percent recycled glass designed with translucent layers of glass that form a smooth, etched, sandblasted, patterned or grooved finish. The material in it includes mirrors, windows, bottles, really any kind of broken recycled glass. Great for a modern look and it requires to sealing or waxing, and doesn't stain or burn.
Geos - blends recycled glass into a unique blend with strength and beauty. Available at Home Depot.
3. Recycled stainless steel and aluminum
Because it is a product that avoids going to the landfill, stainless steel and aluminum get the green thumbs up. Most stainless steel is made of 60 percent recycled content and, because it can be recycled again and again, has an extended useful life. Check out Alkemi , which make a countertop made of post-industrial scrap waste of the fine flakes left over from aluminum milling.
4. 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.
5. 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 gives you some viable green options for countertops, and I hope you consider the planet while doing a kitchen refresh. What do you think - worth the investment?