Solid surface products such as Corian or Avonite are plastic. While they do not seem to off-gas or require sealing, they do scratch but can be repaired just like bamboo or recycled paper.
- Most plastics or acrylics come from petroleum-based chemicals and as such, are not our first choice for a green countertop.
- Most sell in the $50-$70 price range and are professionally fabricated and installed.
There are a number of eco-friendly countertops that range in price from $4 per square foot (SF) all the way up to $125/SF. As you might expect, the degree of green ranges from dark green all the way to light green.
Countertops are prized for durability, beauty and ease of cleaning, but there is more to the equation when considering their eco-friendliness.
Shopping for a green counter
Here are some questions to ask when shopping for green countertops:
- Are they made with natural or rapidly renewable materials?
- Are they made with toxic chemicals such as adhesives that contain formaldehyde that off-gas?
- Do they contain recycled content?
- Are they made overseas and shipped at great expense to the environment?
- Do they scratch or dent and if so, how easily are they repaired?
- Are they mold and mildew resistant naturally or do they contain anti-microbial chemicals?
- Are they porous and if so, what chemicals are used to seal them?
- Are they stain resistant, and if so, what is used to block staining?
- How does heat affect the surface?
Pros and cons of several green countertop materials
Below are some of typical green countertops along with some of their positive and negative characteristics and prices. You already know what's at the top of the heap, so let's start at the bottom and work our way up.
Linoleum: made of 100% bio-based ingredients such as linseed oil, limestone, tree rosins, wood flour, pigments and jute. Most of these are renewable resources that come from Europe, US and Bangladesh. Completely non-toxic, naturally anti-microbial, anti-static and Allergy and Asthma friendly certified, natural linoleum has been used for countertops, desktops and bar tops for the past century.
Forbo Marmoleum is the leading brand, which makes their products in Europe.
- Marmoleum comes in 79" wide sheets and is glued down with a non-toxic adhesive.
- While it is a tough surface, it is not ideal for cutting with sharp knives or for use with hot pots.
- It comes in 150 designer colors that go with any decor.
- It is probably the most eco-friendly countertop at the lowest price of $4/SF.
- It can be installed by most carpenters and is easy to cut, install and maintain.
- Although it may not be your first choice for your kitchen, it may be an option for an eating bar or table tops.
The next time you happen to visit a Taco Bell, check out their table tops and wall coverings; they have started to use Marmoleum in many of the newer stores.
Porcelain tile: 30% harder than granite, highly stain, scratch, heat and mold resistant.
- Porcelain comes in 12" x 12" to 24" x24" tiles, in stunning colors and patterns.
- Requires no sealing and is completely non-toxic.
- Polished porcelain cleans like glass but is much harder.
- Don't overlook this option just because of grout lines. Many porcelain tiles are now made with rectified edges which can be butted together without grout. There are special techniques for installing this correctly. In addition, there are new urethane grouts (Star-Quartz) that are non-toxic and completely mold and stain resistant.
- Most countertops are 24" deep and require a bull nose front edge made of similar tile or wood.
- Porcelain tile is made from porcelain clay and fired at 2000 degrees. There is certainly a carbon footprint here, however, the longevity and performance make up for some of that.
- In addition, many manufacturers now recycle their old or imperfect tiles into newer models.
Some porcelain is made in the US, such as Crossville Ceramics, but most others are imported from Italy. Prices start at $4/SF for most 12" x 12" and go up to about $15/SF for 24" x 24" tiles. Installation costs are higher than flooring tiles because they need to be perfectly level. Considering the performance and looks, porcelain tile gives the best bang for the buck.
Bamboo: Natural, renewable and beautiful rich warm appearance and feel that compliments many wood cabinets.
- Won't turn black when wet like Maple butcher block.
- Bamboo comes in slabs 1 1 /2" thick x 30" deep x 96" long or 36" wide x 72" long in several light and dark colors with some nice detailing on the edges.
- Some styles are best for eating bars but the strand woven and end grain butcher block style is fine for cutting on and won't show scratches too much. If they do, you can always sand them down or oil them down.
- Easy to work with: cuts, sands, stains, and finishes just like wood.
Bamboo countertops come unfinished and must be sealed with non-toxic polyurethane (AFM Safecoat Polyureseal BP) or food-grade oils (Bioshield Herbal Oil). Bamboo comes from China but is made with no urea formaldehyde adhesives. Not ideal for hot pots, requires some routine maintenance. Prices are in the $25-$30/SF range.
Recycled paper: Made in the U.S. with 50-100% recycled paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), these countertops offer a rich warm look and feel that are ideal for countertops, eating bars, tub surrounds and window ledges. They are also used for rain-screens on the outside of buildings.
- Yes, this paper is tough because it is compressed under extreme heat and pressure along with non-toxic resins. Used originally in skateboard parks outdoors, it can withstand moisture and chemicals very well.
- It can scratch if you cut on it with sharp knives, but can be easily sanded and oiled back to a beautiful patina.
- It also can tolerate hot pots up to 350 degrees and is highly resistant to mold and mildew.
- Although there is a small range of colors, they seem to work well with most wood cabinets.
Recycled paper comes in a wide range of thicknesses and sizes from 1/4" to 2" thick and typical slab sizes of 60" x 144". Prices for slabs range from $40/SF to $60/SF plus fabrication costs. Although many professional finish carpenters have successfully worked with this product, it is recommended by the manufacturer to have a certified installer fabricate and install these countertops. Two popular brands are Richlite and Paperstone.
Quartz: Quartz is made from 90% + silicates (sand) and a binder, usually epoxy or similar type of hard resin.
- Quartz, like porcelain tile, is harder than granite.
- Quartz outperforms granite by being more resistant to scratches and heat and it never needs to be sealed, although some manufacturers still recommend it.
- It must be fabricated by a professional fabricator and ranges in price from $75 to $100/SF installed.
- Designers love it because it comes in dozens of colors in polished or matte finishes that work well with flooring and cabinetry.
With one exception, (Cambria), most quartz countertops are manufactured in Europe where they originated. Silestone, Ceaserstone, Zodiac, HanStone are just a few of the more popular brands. Some contain antimicrobials to help resist mold and mildew.
Although quartz is made of natural ingredients and does not off-gas, the use of chemical binders and other releasing agents raises questions. In general, however, they are considered safe and one of the most durable countertops.
Recycled glass: made from post-consumer recycled glass from soda, beer and wine bottles, windshields, art-glass, traffic lights, etc. are bound together with a cement binder.
- Usually there are no toxic binders or antimicrobial agents.
- The beauty and variety of these tops make them exquisite works of art cherished by almost everyone that sees and touches them.
- Most are made within the US such as Vetrazzo, Greenfield, IceStone and more.
- Unlike quartz, they need to be sealed and because they are made with glass, they can scratch if cut with sharp knives.
Generally, they are quite durable, but cannot handle hot pots and are not as repairable as bamboo or recycled paper. Most prices including installation start around $100 and go up to $150 for some of the rare colored glass.
Natural stone: granite, limestone, and marble are all worthy competitors that fit somewhere in the upper end between 5 and 6 pricewise.
- Although most are extracted from foreign countries such as Brazil and India, Soapstone and Limestone can be found in different parts of the US.
- While all of these are natural and certainly beautiful, they are not ideal countertops in terms of their porosity and softness.
- They all require regular sealing, may scratch or become dull and are not easily repaired.
- Some granite has been reported to have radioactive qualities although the Tile Council of America has nixed that as an unsubstantiated rumor.Nonetheless, there are still some who claim there are minute amounts in certain types of granite.
- All require professional fabrication and installation.