Welcome to the wonderful world of countertops made with recycled content. There is something for every taste, every budget and every degree of passion for the environment.
You can get a countertop made by a firm that focuses on reducing landfill debris, a firm that also focuses on the environmental impact of making the countertop itself or a firm that decided to take on a challenging recycling problem.
An example of the latter would be Formica’s e-Series solid surface countertop. It’s a conventional-looking material with an unusual recycling twist. The manufacturer deliberately sought to incorporate a material that isn’t usually recycled because it’s costly and difficult, said Pam Kineer, a Formica marketing executive. Formica chose expended polystyrene plastic (EPS), the material used to make Styrofoam cups and packing peanuts, because it doesn’t decompose in landfills.
Formica’s e-Series contains 5 percent recycled EPS, which works out to about 1,000 Styrofoam cups in every 12-foot-by-30-inch sheet of material. The e-Series also contains 10 percent scrap waste from the production of Formica’s conventional Solid Surfacing countertops. The recycled content is not visible in the finished countertop. Introduced last January, the e-Series has six light-toned earth colors, each with distinctive white flecks and larger translucent brown chunks. The e-Series installed cost is about $50 a square foot.
Dupont’s Terra Collection was launched last June. As with Formica’s e-Series, Terra looks like a conventional solid surface material but is made with recycled content, in this case scrap waste from Dupont’s Corian production. Terra was developed as part of Dupont’s company-wide drive to reduce its annual waste from 81 million tons to zero, a feat it accomplished in three years.
The Terra collection has 33 earth colors that are organized into three groups, containing 20 percent, 13 percent and 6 percent recycled content. The higher the recycled content, the lighter the colors. The five in the 20 percent recycled content group include only white, tan and gray; the recycled content appears as tiny flecks and larger chunks. The most saturated colors, and in my estimation the most appealing choices, have the least amount of recycled content. Terra’s installed cost ranges from $50 to $100 per square foot.
Cosentino’s environmentally ambitious Eco line resembles its far better known Silestone quartz countertop because both are made with the same manufacturing process, but the content and sourcing are different. Silestone is made with virgin material, but 75 percent of an Eco countertop is made with recycled content, including porcelain (toilets, sinks and dinnerware), crystalized ash from smoke stacks and industrial furnaces, and glass (bottles and mirrors). Eco’s virgin content includes quartz to provide strength and a polyester binder that contains corn oil.
Eco countertops are offered in 10 earth colors. The most popular choice of designers has been “Riverbed,” a rusty-gray with tiny flecks of black ash that create the illusion of movement and larger glass chunks that add depth. The overall effect resembles a drop of agitated amoeba-filled swamp water under a microscope. Eco’s installed cost is about $80 per square foot.
Cosentino’s favorable environmental record, including its work with quartz quarry land restoration and its successes in limiting water use has qualified it for the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification.
For the homeowner who seeks the unusual, Glass Recycled’s countertops are made with 80 percent recycled glass, porcelain or seashells and 20 percent epoxy binder. No two are alike because each countertop is individually mixed and poured by hand; after hardening, the countertops are sanded to a high glossy finish.
Though the firm offers 48 countertops of its own design, adventurous homeowners can create their own, choosing from among 23 glass colors and six sizes of porcelain chips and 25 resin colors. The firm can also match any paint swatch. The firm uses larger transparent glass shards than most countertop manufacturers and this adds character by creating pronounced shadow lines within the countertop slab. The glass mirror shards are big enough to show a fractured reflection of your own face if you bend over low enough. Glass Recycled’s material cost is about $60 per square foot.
Homeowners with budget constraints who want a green countertop might consider Wilson Art’s Laminate. Twenty percent of the “kraft” paper backing used in all its laminates is recycled. The kraft paper constitutes about three-quarters of the material used to make a sheet of plastic laminate.
Because each laminate sheet is only about one-sixteenth of an inch thick, it must be glued to a substrate. This material is usually particle board, which is made with nearly 100 percent recycled wood waste from sawmills or recycled wooden shipping pallets. The installed cost of Wilson Art’s laminate with a particle board substrate runs about $7 to $14 a square foot.
For many years, green builders and architects avoided use of particle board because it emitted unhealthy levels of urea formaldehyde into the air. This situation changed when the California Air Resources Board (CARB) mandated that as of Jan. 1, 2011, all particle board sold there must emit at a level below 0.09 parts per million, a limitation that health experts have sanctioned. However, to stay below this upper limit, manufacturers must produce particle board that emits at a lower average rate; in 2011 it was 0.07 ppm. As of Jan. 1, 2013, the CARB standard will become a federal standard.
If you don’t live in California, can you get the CARB standard product now? It’s widely available, but Tom Julia, who heads the Composite Panel Association (CPA), the organization that certifies that particle boards are CARB compliant, advised homeowners to insist that any particle board used to make their countertop carry this stamp: “CARB Phase #2 compliant, Certified by CPA.”
Katherine Salant has an architecture degree from Harvard. A native Washingtonian, she grew up in Fairfax County and now lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. If you have questions or column ideas, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.katherinesalant.com.