Green Interiors

Recycling everything for a countertop
by Pamela Portwood

Whenever I have guests over, it never seems to matter where the food or the drinks are set out because inevitably people end up in the kitchen. It's not that my kitchen is exceptional large or ideally placed. It doesn't even seem to matter if anyone is cooking. People simply are drawn to the space that feels like the heart of a home.

Functional space plans, energy efficient appliances and, of course, storage everywhere are important considerations in designing a kitchen. Cabinetry selection typically establishes the kitchen's style. Yet the countertops often highlight the color palette and become a focal point in the room. The right countertops help give a kitchen that sense of being the heart of a home.

Green options in countertops are exciting, and they're growing every year as manufacturers discover new materials to recycle.

Bizarre though it sounds, several companies are recycling paper into countertop material by combining the paper with resin and compressing them under high pressure. Typically, the countertops have to be resealed periodically and develop a patina over time. Richlite, Paperstone and Squak Mountain Stone are some of the options.

Easily half a dozen companies, including Icestone and Vetrazzo, are now using recycled glass to create striking, often brilliantly colored countertops. The glass is set in cement for a terrazzo in miniature look.

EnviroSLAB by EnviroGLAS combines recycled glass and porcelain with resin for another terrazzo-like option. You can buy their standard products or personalize your countertop by selecting the resin color as well as the size and color of the porcelain and glass chips, which include their "glow in the dark" colors.

Recycled aluminum is available in a couple of different formats. Alkemi embeds fine flakes of post-industrial aluminum scrap in resin to create in a unique look of silvery curves or squiggles in a background of striking colors. Eleek recycles aluminum to create solid sheet or tile countertops that are actually available in a few colors as well as a matte metal finish.

Then, there's the traditional butcher-block look that isn't traditional in terms of its material. Butcher-block counters are available in recycled wood as well as bamboo. Certainly, the most unusual option comes from Fontenay Woods, which offers wood recycled from wine barrels for countertops and flooring. The lighter wood bears the stamps and markings from the outer side of the barrels while the darker wood comes from inside the barrels and was literally stained by the wine.

Some of the other natural products that are being recycled include wheat stalks, sunflower shells and sorghum straw. Kirei board is made from reclaimed sorghum, which gives it a unique pattern reminiscent of an unusual wood grain.

What are some of the things to consider when selecting a green countertop? Definitely evaluate the elements that make the product green: how much recycled material does it use, whether it off-gasses hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs), if it has any green certifications, whether the counter can be recycled and what is the product's embodied energy in terms of shipping and manufacturing. Also, check the product's warranty since durability is an important factor.

Just as importantly, think about your and your family's kitchen habits. Are you quick to wipe up wine and coffee spills? Do your kids cut food directly on the countertop? Would you worry about stains on the cement of a recycled glass countertop or scuff marks on a recycled paper countertop? Making the heart of your home a comfortable, livable space is more important than making it a vision of perfection.

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Article is reprinted courtesy of The New Southwest (formerly Tucson Green Times).


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