Selecting the right countertop for your kitchen can be a complicated decision. The material should look good, provide a durable surface, and, if sustainability is important to you, have minimal impact on the environment. Many popular countertop materials are manufactured using non-renewable resources and sealed with potentially harmful chemicals. For a greener choice, look for eco-friendly countertops made from recycled or sustainable materials that are safer for you and the environment. In addition to ensuring your kitchen remodel has a greener footprint, many of these ecological options stand up to everyday use just as well as traditional countertop materials like granite or laminate.
When selecting an eco-friendly countertop, consider where and how it’s made, as well as its appearance, performance, maintenance needs, and cost. Here is a breakdown of some of the best green countertop materials to help you decide which is best for you.
Bamboo is a rapidly growing, renewable resource that makes an excellent eco-friendly countertop material. Although it’s technically a grass, bamboo looks and functions similarly to wood. It comes in a variety of grain patterns and requires a sealant to protect against stains and damage from water and heat. Scratches, chips, and other marks can often be easily fixed by sanding and re-sealing the surface. Bamboo countertops should be cleaned with a mild dishwashing detergent using only non-abrasive cleaning tools. You can expect to pay between $25 and $100 per square foot for this countertop material.
2. Paper Composite
Postconsumer paper waste can be made into eco-friendly countertops by compressing the paper into a solid block, then finishing it with a hard, natural resin. The result is a strong, sleek finish akin to solid-surface countertops. Paper composite countertops are durable, heat-tolerant, resistant to nicks and chips, and easy to keep clean. The surface should be re-sealed once or twice a year with mineral oil to prevent stains. When cleaning recycled paper countertops, avoid using harsh chemical cleaners or dish soap, which can damage or dull the finish over time. Instead, use a cloth dampened with water or a non-abrasive household cleaner to wipe down the surface. The cost for paper composite countertops generally ranges from $40 to $75 per square foot.
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and other postconsumer plastics can be diverted from landfills and transformed into an eco-friendly kitchen work surface. Recycled plastic countertops are available in an array of colors and textures and are comparable to solid-surfacing. The affordable material is long-lasting and moisture resistant, but it can burn and scratch easily, so beware of setting hot cookware or sharp objects on the surface. However, recycled plastic countertops are highly resistant to chemicals, so you can generally clean the surface with your cleaner of choice. This type of countertop material typically costs between $50 and $80 per square foot.
4. Reclaimed Wood
Salvaged from old barns and other demolished structures, reclaimed wood makes a beautiful and rustic countertop material. Because wood can easily burn, split, and stain, it must be re-sealed frequently. If you don’t mind the aged look, the surface can be used as a cutting board and the nicks and discoloration will only add to the timeless appeal. Clean the surface with warm, soapy water and avoid abrasive chemicals or cleaning tools. The cost of reclaimed wood countertops can vary widely, but you can expect to pay between $30 and $140. For a budget-friendly option, repurpose wood you already have on-hand as eco-friendly countertops.
5. Recycled Glass
Recycled glass countertops are comprised of pieces of glass mixed with porcelain or concrete and cast into slabs. These eco-friendly countertops look similar to natural stone and are equally durable. Terrazzo, for example, is a stylish option made of 50-95% recycled glass. The material is available in a wide range of colors, can last for several decades, doesn’t need to be sealed, and is nonporous and heat resistant. On the downside, the material is typically as expensive as granite and harder to find. Expect to pay between $65 and $140 per square foot for recycled glass countertops.
6. Stainless Steel
Typically made of 65 to 100% recycled content, stainless steel is a durable and low-maintenance option that can give your kitchen a sleek, modern look. Plus, the material can be recycled and reused if you ever decide to replace your countertops. Although the material resists heat and stains, it scratches easily and shows fingerprints (minimize the effect by choosing a brushed finish). For cleaning, use a microfiber cloth and warm, soapy water, or apply a commercial stainless steel cleaner to remove smudges. Stainless-steel countertops can be quite expensive, costing between $80 and $150 per square foot.
Jessica Bennett, Better Homes & Gardens