Countertops From Recycled Material
Although no countertop material has zero impact on our planet, we believe the materials below have superior environmental and health attributes. Concrete can be molded into custom shapes and dyed almost any color or given distinctive blended looks, though you should inquire about the toxicity of dyes. However, concrete counters should be sealed periodically to limit stains, water damage and bacterial growth, and heat can damage the seal. At the end of its useful life in your kitchen, it can be reused whole or cut for other projects.Glass tiles scratch more easily than ceramic, however, and may be less uniform, making it necessary to use more grout. As with ceramic tiles, locally produced tiles are environmentally preferable. Glass tiles are easier than ceramic to reuse or recycle, but removing them is just as difficult. Paper composite handles heat well and is very durable—the material does not nick easily, and the darker colors resist staining. Because the resin is a thermoset plastic, paper-based solid surfaces are not recyclable, though they can be recut and retooled for future use. Maintaining paper composites over their long life will reduce their overall environmental impact; a nonabrasive cleaner and a sponge are adequate for routine cleaning.Terrazzo consists of crushed stone and glass set in a cement or epoxy substrate that is buffed smooth. Glass, stone and other recycled materials can make up as much as 95 percent of the materials in terrazzo. Epoxy is petroleum-derived, cannot be recycled and can contain a number of potentially harmful chemicals such as phthalates. Wood is not a good choice for continually wet areas, such as the space immediately surrounding a sink. However, kept sealed with natural mineral oil to prevent drying, wood is a highly durable and healthy counter material. It is not inherently a green product—cement production and transportation are extremely energy-intensive—but if the aggregate is recycled and locally sourced, the energy intensity falls. Once cast into countertops, concrete can withstand heat very well. Unwanted concrete can be crushed into aggregate for producing new concrete, saving energy used in mining resources to produce new concrete and keeping old concrete out of landfills. The production process for recycling glass into tiles, called sintering, consumes far less energy than making new tiles from virgin materials. The resin does not come from recycled sources, but it constitutes a small amount of the material. Overall, solid-paper composites are environmentally preferable to plastic-based solid surfaces, since wood is a renewable resource, while petroleum is not. Countertops can be sealed with mineral oil to improve moisture and stain resistance. Some are made of compressed yogurt containers and aluminum, while others end up looking close to terrazzo. The environmental and health impacts of terrazzo lie in the epoxy or cement substrate, which can be up to 30 percent of the material. Once epoxy has cured, it has little impact on air quality, is nonporous and does not need to be sealed. It can be crushed and incorporated into new terrazzo, effectively recycling it. Since growing and harvesting trees is an environmentally disruptive activity, salvaged wood is environmentally optimal. Untreated wood is truly a renewable resource, and it requires much less industrial processing than other countertop materials. It can also be burned, scorched, dented and stained, so it requires care and regular cleaning. Mechanically fastening wood countertops avoids adhesives and makes removing the material easier.