When considering countertop choices for your kitchen or bath remodel, the number of eco-friendly options can send your head spinning. These days, there are so many more options than the olive-toned Formica countertops of the Brady Bunch era. And these modern choices look better and do more for the environment, to boot.
Granite is still the most popular overall countertop choice because it's cost-effective, durable and covers a wide range of color choices. Furthermore, many distributors are now offering unique textures like leather, brushed and antique finishes for their granite. But the tide is quickly turning.
Options now include bamboo, recycled paper, recycled aluminum, construction waste and recycled trash, recycled glass, sustainable wood and concrete, among others. Each of these has its own distinct look, texture and eco-friendly value. A closer examination reveals that each also has its benefits and downsides:
End-grain bamboo is a sustainable wood that's easily grown and harvested. It's popular for its use as a chopping block, fashioned out of small rectangles and low-VOC glue, and sold by various companies, notably Teragren, whose products are LEED certified.
Other sustainable woods provide similar benefits, using reclaimed wood from less common species, like basswood, from managed forests to provide greater grain and color options. According to Jason Landau, a designer and certified green professional with the design firm Amazing Spaces, "The benefits of woods would be their warm appearance and touch, but they're not extremely durable — they can scratch, burn and stain."
Recycled glass is one of the most durable eco-friendly choices, created in many variations by such companies as EnviroGLAS Products, Gilasi, Urbanslabs, VitraStone, Syndecrete, Vetrazzo and Icestone. Icestone, in particular, uses soy-based lubricants instead of petrochemicals in the manufacturing process and has received MBDC's Cradle to Cradle Silver Certification. (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, or MBDC, is recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council in choosing products that have a positive effect on health, environment and life cycle).
To create this multi-hued, glittery surface, the repurposed glass — Vetrazzo's is taken from "post-industrial usage, windows, drinking glasses, stemware, automotive glass, stained glass, lab glass, reclaimed glass from building demolition ... even decommissioned traffic light lenses," according to its website — is mixed with concrete, resin base or cement that has been diverted from landfills, thus reducing greenhouse gases in the manufacturing process. Furthermore, it has many custom color options.
"The only drawback," Landau says, "is that it has a very terrazzo-like appearance, which isn't suitable for traditional designs."
Another durable option is cement. "As far as a green building material, I think concrete has the most to offer in terms of design and durability," Landau says. "It has a unique appearance with many custom colors and design options available, and if it's properly sealed, it won't stain. However, it can scratch and it's very expensive."
Recycled paper products, like Richlite or PaperStone, are made from compressed paper waste that's formed into a solid block, and then covered in natural nonpetroleum, formaldehyde-free resin. The honed block is both heat- and stain-resistant, and modestly priced.
Recycled trash is especially eco-friendly because it removes potential landfill from the environment. 3form's "100 percent" surface is comprised completely of HDPE, a form of plastic, which is available in numerous textures and color variations. Other options include Eleek's recycled aluminum, which uses up to 90 percent of the metal to create both counters and tiles, and Renewed Materials' Alkemi, which is made of post-industrial scrap aluminum mixed with a polymeric resin.
Choosing the right eco-friendly countertop all boils down to budget (prices range from roughly $20 per square foot for bamboo to around $100 per square foot for recycled aluminum), taste and the element's ability to fit the overall design of the room. (Had the TV series been made in 2009, we're guessing that Mr. Brady, an architect, would have probably gotten his green credentials and chosen a very, very brightly colored recycled glass for his bunch.)
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