New environmentally friendly countertop materials add green to your kitchen

By Katherine Salant
Saturday, January 9, 2010

At the U.S. Green Building Council's trade show in Phoenix recently, I encountered three intriguing countertop materials: IceStone, Bio-Glass and Eco. Each adds an innovative, green spin to its market niche.

IceStone countertops are made of concrete. Though still a novel product to the average homeowner, this type of countertop has been developed and perfected over the past 20 years by a small group of independent artisans across the country. With soft, opaque colors, it looks like a far cry from a floor slab, and the artists typically go to great lengths to produce a finish that conceals the small-stone aggregates in the mix.

IceStone turns this aesthetic on its ear; the countertops expose the aggregate, which is recycled glass. Colored pigment is added to the cement binder to create darker colors. (Jimi Hendrix fans will appreciate the smoky "Purple Haze" variety.) For the lighter-colored countertops, the hues are created by the colors of the glass fragments; the cement binder is white. Another aesthetic difference with IceStone is its highly polished, reflective surface. This gives the finished product an edgy, urban look, which seems especially fitting given the producer's location in New York City.

Though recycled glass can be found in abundant quantities in New York, IceStone's materials are sourced from elsewhere because the city's recycling program is not ready for prime time, IceStone's co-president, Miranda Magagnini, said. All the glass the city collects is "commingled," meaning that all different types of glass are thrown together. Before it can be reused, it must be sorted and cleaned of all residues. In IceStone's case, the glass would also have to be broken to get the right-size fragments. Finessing this thankless chore, the firm gets its recycled glass from firms that make it ready for reuse.

Definitely a high-end product, IceStone runs $80 to $160 a square foot, installed.

High-end glass countertops typically look like perfect sheets of ice -- smooth and clear without a single air bubble. By this standard, Bio-Glass is deeply flawed. By any other measure, however, the material is intriguing; there is nothing like it in the marketplace.

Bio-Glass is made from recycled bottles. They are broken into much larger pieces than IceStone uses, and these bigger shards are melted just enough to fuse the stacked layers into a 3/4-inch-thick countertop. The finished surface is slightly rippled by the softened edges of the shards on the topmost layer. When the darker colors are lit from above, the edges of the fused shards make the material look veined. When the lighter colors are lit from below (the countertop can be installed with concealed lighting underneath), the fused shards look like fossils.

More bottles are required to make a Bio-Glass countertop than you might suspect. For example, a 2-by-8-foot countertop (a common size in American kitchens) of the dark brown "fossil amber" would require about 450 12-ounce beer bottles.

Bio-Glass is also high-end. The $90-a-square-foot quote from the company did not include the installation cost.

Countertop aficionados will note that an Eco countertop looks exactly like a Silestone one. This is no coincidence; the two products are made by Cosentino, and the same process is used for both. What differentiates them is their material mix. Silestone is an engineered stone product made with 93 percent quartz and 7 percent acrylic binder. With Eco, the quartz has been replaced with an eclectic mix of recycled products including glass from bottles and windows; porcelain from dishware, sinks and toilets; stone scraps; and crystallized ash. Because the recycled materials lack the strength of quartz, four times as much binder is required; of this about one quarter is corn-oil based and the rest is the same acrylic, petroleum-based resin used in Silestone.

As with Silestone's quartz particles, Eco's glass and porcelain fragments impart a visual depth. Also like Silestone, Eco looks like polished granite, albeit a stone that you won't recognize.

Eco is another high-end product; its installed cost ranges from about $90 to $100 a square foot.

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