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Everything You Need to Know About Green Countertops

Recycling Potential, Building Material, and Transportation Distance are all Factors

© 2012 by Alyssa Davis; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without written permission.

Granite countertops are a sustainable investment; photo courtesy Alyssa Davis

This article was updated on 09/03/18.

Whether you are remodeling your kitchen or designing the kitchen for your new home, chances are good that you have been considering “green” or earth-friendly choices when it comes to flooring, appliances, and more.

You can also make eco-conscious choices when it comes to the countertops that you select. Keep the following in mind when contrasting the advantages and drawbacks of various materials that are on the market when selecting your kitchen countertops:

  • How is the material made? Is the material renewable? Is the material recyclable or even made from recycled or salvaged material? If the material is harvested or mined, how was the process managed?

    For instance, the procedure used to mine the metal that is used in manufacturing stainless steel kitchen countertops uses a lot of energy and can cause pollution, even though stainless steel can be recycled easily. So that one’s a wash it would seem.

  • How is the material manufactured? Materials that are processed less obviously use less energy to make and thus have less of an environmental impact.

    For instance, ceramic tiles that must be fired twice in the kiln take a great deal of energy to produce. But there are other factors to consider. First, the kilns of today are much more efficient than older ones. Also, If you are looking for tile with more than one color or a distinctive pattern then the tile will be fired using the bicottura method. The prefix would sounds like the material is fired twice but in actuality may be fired as many times as needed. Prior to each firing a different shade of glaze is applied to the tile surface. This procedure is repeated until the design is complete.

  • How far will the material need to be shipped to reach your retailer, building contractor, or you? There is a direct relation between the number of miles a product travels to reach you and the amount of pollution that is released into the air from burning fuel. Buying local does not only apply to produce.

    The greener choice is one that travels less than five hundred miles to get to your door if possible. And of course, the farther it has to travel, the more it is going to cost. When possible, buy locally crafted materials.

  • Is the material free from VOCs, formaldehyde, and other chemicals? These toxins can leach from the countertop during its lifespan, so be careful and choose wisely. Do your research; the marketer is not always up front offering the MSDS information.

  • Where will your new countertop end up at the end of its life? Can the countertop be recycled or reused? Can it be down-cycled into some other product? Will it likely end up in the landfill?

  • Choose a material that can be kept out of the landfill for some other purpose. For example, concrete countertops can often be crushed and used as aggregate materials for new concrete.

Top Green Countertop Choices

So which is best? Each countertop material has its own negatives and positives, drawbacks and advantages. Terrazzo is a growing choice among many homeowners.

Terrazzo, which is recycled glass and crushed stone that is set in an epoxy substrate or cement and then buffed smooth, can last for four decades or longer. It is low-maintenance and very aesthetically pleasing.

Laminates made with recycled plastic and paper are also good choices. Recycled laminate is widely available, relatively inexpensive, and a cinch to maintain, although it can be damaged easily by heat.

Locally mined granite is a beautiful and durable choice, although it does not come cheap. As always, salvaged countertops are a great choice; they cut out not only the manufacturing process but the recycling process as well.

This is important because it keeps a product out of the landfill. With the growth of the green movement, there are many recycled building material stores springing up, so chances are good that you won’t have to go far to find salvaged building supplies, like countertops, in your hometown.

Quartz is a good choice. It is more affordable than some other stone and is easy to maintain

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