- Are you planning to remodel your kitchen? New countertops can give your kitchen a whole new look. Picking out countertops is fun, but the range of surfaces available can be mindboggling. One way to narrow down the universe of options is to focus your search on "green" environmentally friendly countertops.
Most of us want countertops that are attractive but also durable and easy to clean. You may be surprised to learn that countertops made from recycled materials can be all those things, and some can add eyecatching drama to this most practical of surfaces. Did you know that you can have sleek, smooth counters topped with recycled scrap metal? How about recycled glass? Or paper? Yes, recycled paper. There are many beautiful, interesting alternatives to granite and marble (which are beautiful but finite, nonrenewable natural resources), and maple or oak butcher block (which take many years to regrow after the trees are harvested). Here's a look at some eco-friendly countertops to consider.
: It seems to be everywhere these days - there are bamboo serving utensils and bowls, cutting boards, flooring, even textiles. Bamboo is considered sustainable because one planting can be harvested repeatedly - the plants are cut down and regrow to harvestable size in less than five years. Compare that with the 50 to 70-year regrowth time frame of a hardwood forest. One developing concern, however, is that rain forest areas are being cleared to make way for bamboo farms, destroying valuable wildlife habitat and diverse plant communities.
Glass countertops can be made from a solid, thick sheet of glass, or bits of recycled glass that are heated in a mold until they fuse together. (Courtesy Photo: eco-modernism.com)
Bamboo is undeniably a beautiful material, and it's harder than maple. To make a countertop bamboo strips are glued together (ideally with a low-VOC material; volatile organic compounds - VOCs - emit potentially toxic gases into the air and may have adverse effects on our bodies). Bamboo countertops are available with different grains and patterns.
Applying a penetrating sealer such as natural tung oil will help protect the bamboo surface and prevent staining. A bamboo counter can serve as a giant cutting board; you can sand it down and reseal it if it becomes too scratched. A downside is that that it's not heatproof - you'll need to set hot pots on trivets to prevent burns. Bamboo is also sensitive to environmental conditions - changes in humidity and temperature can cause it to shrink or expand somewhat, making installation potentially tricky. Some sources include: www.bamboorevolution.com
(also sells tops made from reclaimed oak, paperboard and Kirei Board, which is made from sorghum straw waste); www.plyboo.com
: Glass countertops can be made from a solid, thick sheet of glass, or bits of recycled glass that are heated in a mold until they fuse together (glass made by this process is called kiln-fired). Recycled glass countertops are also made by binding the glass bits together with cement or epoxy resin. These counters come in a range of colors, and some are multicolored. They need to be sealed to protect the cement from staining; wipe up spills promptly. Setting a hot pot on a cement counter won't hurt the glass, but it can affect the sealant, so use trivets. Resin counters are less susceptible to staining than cement, but they're not as hard; always use trivets, and a cutting board when using a knife. Recycled glass countertops are less expensive than solid glass tops.
Bits of scrap metal, especially aluminum, make sleek, smooth - and practical - countertops. (Courtesy Photo: buildipedia.com)
Glass countertops are beautiful, and not readily breakable (though if they do break they're expensive to repair or replace). They do scratch, though, and show fingerprints. But they're easy to clean with glass cleaner. A colored or textured glass surface won't show fingerprints and scratches as much as a smooth slab.
• Solid Tops
(available with embedded textures and LED lights, or smooth surface); www.ultraglas.com
• Recycled Tops
(located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, glass-and-cement countertops); www.vetrazzo.com
: Bits of scrap metal, especially aluminum, make sleek, smooth - and practical - countertops. Several million tons of aluminum are thrown away every year in the U.S. Some innovative companies use aluminum that is not recycled in the usual ways to manufacture countertops. These aluminum tops offer an eco-friendly substitute for stainless steel or zinc counters. They're easy to care for and available with smooth or textured surfaces, www.eleekinc.com
(cast metal tiles for countertops and other uses); www.renewedmaterials.com
(Alkemi brand countertops).
: Believe it or not, countertops made from paper have the look and feel of stone. The paper is soaked with resin, heated and compressed into slabs. Counters made with post-consumer recycled paper are the most environmentally friendly, but due to variations in the papers going into them, the tops can be uneven and more difficult to install. One brand, the Eco Top, combines recycled paper with bamboo fibers and recycled wood fibers and binds them with a VOC-free resin. The tops come in a range of colors, www.kliptech.com
(Eco Top). Other sources include: www.paperstoneproducts.com
Anne is a writer, editor and professional gardener, and the author of 17 garden, home and nature books. She lives in Hampton Bays.