The market has exploded with options for sustainable countertops. They are made with recycled materials such as plastics and aluminum and sustainable, fast-growing materials such as bamboo, wheat and hemp.
Aesthetics is not the only consideration when choosing a sustainable countertop. Durability, recycled content, end of life recyclability and costs also are important factors. The following is an introduction to some sustainable countertop materials and manufacturers listed from least to most expensive.
Recycled plastic This material is very environmentally friendly. It is made from 100 percent post-consumer plastics and is 100 percent recyclable at the end of its life. Pros: No sealing required, lightweight, easy to install. Cons: Easily scratched Manufacturers: 3-Form
Recycled paper These countertops are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper that has been saturated with resins and selected natural pigments. After trimming to length, resin-saturated sheets are stacked and moved into a press where they are fused together under heat and pressure. Paper sheet count determines the thickness of the finished panels. Pros: Wide variety of looks and colors, aged appearance, durable Cons: Must be sealed properly and regularly Manufacturers: Paperstone, Richlite
Bamboo These countertops come in parquet butcher block, vertical grain or strand countertops. Bamboo is a fast growing, sustainable plant that is 40 percent harder than red oak and 12 percent harder than North American maple. Pros: Very durable, designed to chop on Cons: Mineral oil or beeswax must be applied twice a month Manufacturers: Teragren
Recycled aluminum This product made of waste aluminum flake, solid surface scrap and recycled acrylic. It has no VOC content. It is fabricated and installed by solid surface professionals with conventional tools and methods. Pros: It is 96 percent recycled content, available in a variety of colors and finishes, durable, attractive Cons: Aesthetic appeal Manufacturers: Alkemi
Resin infused composite This product is made by infusing acrylic resin into composite boards in order to create a hard and durable surface product that is suitable for high wear applications. In addition, the infusion process adds a desirable look that makes the panels appealing to architects and designers Pros: Includes 50 percent to 75 percent recycled content, wheat, sorghum, hemp and wood Cons: Can't use under-mount sinks, prone to scratches Manufacturers: TorZo
Composite stone This is a contemporary version of terrazzo which is made with recycled materials such as paper and glass mixed with low-carbon cement instead of the traditional terrazzo aggregate of marble chips. Pros: Contains more than 50 recycled content Cons: More susceptible to scratching and staining than a resin based product. It is porous which might increase the chances for bacterial growth if not cleaned and maintained regularly. The edges can chip. Manufacturers: Squak Mountain Stone, Vetrazzo, Icestone
Resin based stone These countertops are made with quartz, porcelain ,recycled glass and/or shells in a epoxy terrazzo. It is nonporous and easy to maintain. Pros: Diverts post consumer glass from the waste stream, extremely durable and easy to maintain. It is comparable to granite in strength, scratch resistance, and heat resistance. Cons: More expensive than other options. Manufacturers: Vetrostone (manufactured in Yemassee), Glass Recycled
Jane Frederick is an architect and co-owner of Frederick + Frederick Architects in Beaufort.