There are many important issues to consider when choosing a countertop. Below are some of the most important things to keep in mind.
✔ Take a ‘macro view’ when choosing your countertop – When planning to install new countertops, there are many things to consider to keep the process environmentally friendly. Here are four important questions to ask:
- Does the material have a high embodied energy? In other words, was its extraction or manufacture energy intensive? Will it be recyclable at its end of life?
- Is the material made out of recycled content?
- Is the material a renewable or plentiful resource?
- Will the material or the method of installation result in the release of VOCs which will affect indoor air quality?
✔ Choose an eco-friendly material – Countertops can be made from a wide range of materials and the environmental friendliness of the completed countertop can vary widely depending on the material chosen. Below is a description of some of the most commonly available materials:
- Concrete – Concrete is a flexible material easily formed into different shapes. It is durable and heat-resistant. Concrete has high embodied energy, it off-gasses and isn’t a renewable resource, so it isn’t considered the greenest material. Although, if fly ash can be substituted for cement, the overall level of embodied energy can be reduced.
- Laminates – Laminate is a material made of both wood and plastic. The composition is of decorative papers, and melamine resins, bonded through high heat and pressure. This product is sometimes referred to as “Formica” or “Arborite.” Though laminates are not considered green, if the paper and plastic come from recycled sources, their impact can be reduced.
- Stainless Steel – Stainless steel provides a highly durable and very easy to clean surface. Stainless steel can be made from salvaged or recycled metal. It can also be installed without glue, which means you can reduce the risk of contaminants.
- Quartz – Quartz-surfacing countertops are made of 93 percent crushed quartz blended with color pigments and plastic resins. Since quartz is the most common mineral in the earth’s crust, if sourced locally, in most cases it will be a greener choice than stone.
- Stone – There is a wide range of stone available as countertop material. Granite and marble are some of the most popular varieties. Stone is a natural material so it is not renewable or recyclable. Also, because it is quarried, it can have a high environmental impact and can take a lot of energy to produce. Be sure to buy locally to reduce its level of embodied energy.
- Terrazzo – Terrazzo is an aggregate of glass, stone, and binders and several companies use high amounts of recycled glass, up to 100%. The recycled content diverts glass from landfills which is very beneficial to the environment.
- Ceramic and Porcelain Tiles – They consist of natural clays, minerals, and sands fired hard and usually glazed and fired again for a smooth water and heatproof finish. Extracting the materials and performing two high-temperature firings consumes a large amount of energy and shipping finished tiles is energy-intensive due to their weight.
- Glass – Glass tiles can be environmentally preferable to ceramic since they can have 100% recycled content. The production process for recycling glass into tiles, called sintering, consumes far less energy than making new tiles from virgin materials.
- Wood – Wood is considered to be the most eco-friendly option when it comes to choosing a kitchen countertop as wood is a renewable resource. Be sure to verify the wood is FSC-certified or reclaimed.
- Solid Surfacing (paper composite, recycled plastic) – Both of these materials are highly durable and come in a wide variety of colors and textures. They are both made from recycled materials that would otherwise be in landfills.