How to choose a green kitchen countertop
Need a new kitchen countertop? Consider one made out of old wine vats, soda bottles or porcelain bathroom fixtures. Or for the ultimate in green, perhaps one made out of recycled paper money.
Recycled materials are an alternative to a granite countertop, which involves mining the stone and isn't considered environmentally sensitive, despite being a natural product. Some of the new surfaces contain colorful fragments of recycled beverage bottles mixed with concrete, or are fashioned from recycled bathroom fixtures.
"First and foremost I tell my clients there are other options than granite. Granite seems to be the default. Concrete is really hot right now, so is bamboo," said DeAnna Radaj, owner of Bante Design in Milwaukee. "One of the cooler companies I found last year was Paperstone. It's actually a composite made of recycled paper and cardboard."
From paper and acrylic to concrete and wood, there are a range of eco-friendly surfaces available to suit nearly any design taste.
"If you can recycle it, they can make a countertop or tile out of it," Radaj said.
PaperStone and Richlite are two manufacturers of countertops made from recycled office paper that is treated with natural resins and pigments and then baked and heated under pressure to create thick, solid sheets. The rich color extends throughout the countertop, so if it's accidentally cut with a knife, it won't be as noticeable as with, for instance, a laminate countertop. One line is even made from corrugated cardboard. The smooth finish has a leather-like appearance.
And then, for those who literally want a green touch, there is another option. "My kitchen counters are made out of recycled money. The product is called Shetka Stone. Looks like granite, cuts like wood. I love them," said Patricia Kane Williams, an attorney in Haddonfield, N.J.
Paper countertops cost about $70 to $85 a square foot installed.
Acrylic and polyester
Although at first glance, acrylic and polyester might not seem to be a green choice, a company called Aristech Acrylics uses recycled scraps that would otherwise end up in a landfill. The countertops are sold under the Avonite brand name, using scrap that is ground to chip stock, mixed with resin and poured into a baking mold to fabricate into countertops. The countertops contain between 20 percent to 40 percent recycled material.
Corian also uses recycled acrylic in its countertops in the Terra Collection, with 6 percent to 13 percent recycled materials, while the Eden and Eden Plus lines uses 12 percent to 40 percent.
The typical cost of these countertops is between $65 to $90 a square foot installed.
Yes, laminate. Laminate countertops are greener than in the past, with wood chips used in the pressed wood particle board foundation often made from wood chips from the lumber industry, which are a waste product that would otherwise go into a landfill. Also, many laminate countertops, such as those from Wilson Art and Formica, use a natural resin-based binder to hold the pressed wood chip board together, which eliminates the adhesives used in the past that off-gassed toxic urea-formaldehyde.
Laminate countertops can cost from $14 to $30 a square foot installed.
There are nearly limitless color possibilities for recycled glass countertops. There are many brands, and many feature recycled glass in a concrete or resin matrix. Some glass countertops share characteristics of granite because it can be glossy and feel cool to the touch like stone.
IceStone has some styles that use salvaged shirt button chips from factory waste, while Eco by Cosentino uses chips from broken mirrors and EnvironGLAS EnviroMODE uses recycled porcelain bathtubs, sinks and toilets, and Vetrazzo uses everything from multicolor art glass shards to recycled beer and vodka bottles, windshields and decommissioned traffic lights, all held together in a cement binder.
Another company, Fuez, combines cement, fly ash and recycled glass to make countertops and also offers customers the option for creating their own design. Going a step further than some, the company has a green manufacturing process as well, with the plant run on wind-generated power and using reclaimed water. The recycled content ranges from 20 percent to 80 percent depending on the materials used and the countertop style.
The price can vary substantially with glass countertops, with Vetrazzo on the high end at $125 to $250 a square foot installed, and Eco by Cosentino ranging from $68 to $118 per square foot.
Reclaimed timber can be used to make kitchen countertops, along with sustainable wood such as fast-growing bamboo. Recycled wine vats are used in some surfaces, with faint lines of deep red to show the origins of the material.
Bamboo ranges from $40 to $60 a square foot installed, while wine vat countertops can cost more than $100 per square foot installed.
Concrete can be customized with bits of recycled glass, seashells and other items added to increase the strength and give a unique appearance. The products are natural, including sand, gravel and a cement mix, and it has a more organic feel. Dyes can also be added to create interesting colors, and it can even be hand troweled for a Venetian plaster design, or buffed with wax or polished for a high sheen.
Concrete countertops cost about $60 a square foot installed.
Teena Hammond Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.