Eco-Friendly Countertop Materials for Kitchen and Bath

Many homeowners love the look of natural stone countertops, especially granite. But are you aware of the negative impact these natural countertops can have on the environment?

Granite is beautiful, but not eco-friendly.
Granite is beautiful, but not eco-friendly. | Source

Sadly, granite scores pretty low on the “green” scale. It is not a renewable resource – meaning once it’s gone from the earth, it’s gone. And in some parts of the world, granite mining practices can leave open pits that result in toxic ground water. Importing granite from other parts of the world creates a gigantic carbon footprint. And some are even saying granite contains radioactive uranium and emits radon gasses as it breaks down over time!

Whew! Now that I’ve totally bummed you out about granite countertops, I want to share several stylish, earth-friendly alternatives for your kitchen and bath. These countertops not only utilize renewable and sustainable resources, they also maintain and even surpass the durability of more conventional countertop materials. Plus, you won’t have to be a bit concerned about dangerous off gasses.

Green Concrete

Concrete countertops have been in vogue for a number of years. They look stunning and if you choose a contractor that uses an eco-friendly concrete mix, you have hit the green jackpot! Concrete mixes with a minimum of Portland cement are the best. Portland cement is an energy hog to manufacture. Preferable mixes utilize industrial waste by-products that actually creates a stronger end product and it will last just as long as natural stone.

Use an environmentally safe mix if you decide on concrete countertops.
Use an environmentally safe mix if you decide on concrete countertops. | Source

Ground glass and stone can also be uses as sparkly substitute for traditional aggregates in kitchen and bath areas. Recycled glass fiber will reinforce concrete and cuts down on the need for Portland cement. Glass-fiber reinforced concrete, or GFRC, can cost more than regular concrete, but you may be able to get away with using less for your kitchen or bath countertop. Standard concrete countertops must be poured at 1 1/2- to 2-inches thick. A GFRC mix allows for counter thickness of 3/4- to 1-inch.

Seal your green concrete countertop with a water-based, food safe polyurethane.

Scrap Aluminum

I never imagined waste aluminum could be used as an alternative countertop option. These eco-friendly, solid surface countertops incorporate tendrils of aluminum scrap to a resin mix. This creates intricate designs that glimmer and shimmer in the sunlight. Scrap aluminum shavings are typically burned as part of the recycling process. This highly polluting step is skipped and the scraps go directly into making your brand new kitchen and bath countertops!

These aluminum cans could be used to beautify your countertop!
These aluminum cans could be used to beautify your countertop! | Source

You can choose from several countertop colors and finishes to make a unique design statement in your kitchen or bath. These counters install the same way as other solid surface materials. There is no on-going maintenance and minor nicks and cuts are easily removed with a light sanding.

You could make a "peace tree", however, a post-consumer plastic countertop makes much more sense!
You could make a "peace tree", however, a post-consumer plastic countertop makes much more sense! | Source

Post-Consumer Plastic

HDPE, or high-density polyethylene, is the stuff that comprises in excess of 15 percent of our landfill refuse. HDPE is a petroleum-based plastic that is used to make everything from milk jugs to Tyvek and laundry detergent bottles. It is commonly recycled to make similar products. However, environmentally conscious companies are now using post-consumer plastics to make solid surface countertops that are perfect for the kitchen and bath.

Just be advised that while durable, these alternative countertops are not designed to be used as a cutting surface. As with laminate counters, always use a cutting board to protect the countertop. Plastic countertops do not require a sealer and are easy to install. They come in a variety of fun colors and textures, and with proper care, will last for years!

Recycled Glass

If you love the look of terrazzo, you will go crazy for eco-friendly recycled glass countertops! Shards of post-consumer glass are mixed with “green” concrete or resin to create extraordinary counter surfaces for your kitchen and bath. Don’t worry about the manufacturing process – that’s environmentally friendly as well! You can choose from a variety of standard color options, or create your own custom combination.

Give your countertops the look of terrazzo with recycled glass!
Give your countertops the look of terrazzo with recycled glass! | Source

This eco-friendly surface must be sealed like other concrete countertops. Resin versions will take on a mirror-like finish when polished.

Paper Waste

You must think I’m crazy mentioning recycled paper countertops, but I’m here to say I’ve actually seen one and they are incredible! Look for a manufacturer that uses 100% recycled consumer paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Waste paper fibers are combined with a water-based resin compound and compressed under extreme temperatures.. Recycled paper countertops withstand water, wear just as well as solid surface materials and come in a variety of colors. They do require regular maintenance with application of natural oil or wax to protect the surface – but that’s not much different than stone countertops.

Look for Eco-Friendly Countertop Materials that Are:

  • Healthy
  • Renewable
  • Abundant
  • Recycled
  • Locally Accessed

Bamboo

If you fancy the warm look of wood countertops, bamboo is a great alternative to old-growth hardwoods. Bamboo is a fast-growing, sustainable product that is highly regarded for its durability. Natural oil treatments will protect the surface and give your bamboo countertop a lovely sheen. Simply sand away minor cut marks and scratches. Bamboo looks equally beautiful in a modern kitchen or a spa-like bathroom.

Bamboo countertops look stunning in the bath or kitchen.
Bamboo countertops look stunning in the bath or kitchen. | Source

© 2012 lindacee

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Start a Conversation! 15 comments

leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

I love these counter tops! The bamboo really appeals to me. I wonder how it holds up with frequent water splashes? The glass is very cool, too - granite is pretty, but definitely not environmentally friendly!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Leah, granite is so popular these days, but mining and transporting it does put a great strain on the environment -- not to mention the off gassing issue. In doing my research, I found that bamboo does stand up well to water, it just needs to be oiled like any natural wood counter surface. Thanks for the read and comment!


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 4 years ago from Sunny Florida

I love the look of the bamboo countertops and that sink is just beautiful. Great information Up, useful, and interesting.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

KoffeeKlatch, doesn't that counter frame the sink beautifully? I think bamboo is a wonderful countertop material too. Great to hear from you!


Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

Love that sink -- don't think I could ever get into the recycled cans countertop -- thanks for this informative Hub. I definitely need new countertops and your information is very helpful. Best/Sis


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Thanks Angela! The sink IS amazing. Happy you found this Hub helpful. :)


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 4 years ago

My favorite countertop material is probably bamboo. I love its natural and casual look. All the other eco-friendly countertop materials you mentioned are also very interesting, though. Thanks for sharing this fascinating hub. Rated up and awesome!


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

I love the sink basin mounted within the bamboo in the last photo. My hubby wants to use bamboo in our guest bedroom. I was opposed to this idea, but now I may reconsider.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Om, I love bamboo as well. Although the scrap aluminum is very intriguing too. And I've always been a fan of concrete countertops. This proves going green is smart and stylish! Thanks for the votes and comment!


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

teaches, bamboo is surprisingly durable and resistant to water if treated properly. Something to definitely consider!


Angelo52 profile image

Angelo52 4 years ago from Central Florida

Nice article on the various types of countertops. I heard granite tops were not all that great for health purposes either. Something about granite particles.

Voted up and interesting.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Angelo52, having not built a house in a number of years, I was not aware of the potential dangers of granite counters. I'm quite intrigued with concrete countertops these days. You can achieve so many different looks with it. Thanks for you comment and votes!


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 4 years ago from California

Stunning counter tops . Lots of ideas that I had never heard of. I have been trying to convince my husband that cement would be nice as flooring in one of our son's rooms. I love the idea of cement for counter tops.


lindacee profile image

lindacee 4 years ago from Southern Arizona Author

Thanks, tirelesstraveler. It is great there are so many countertop options besides granite, tile or laminate. Concrete counters and flooring are an excellent choice. Hope you can convince your husband! Thanks for reading and commenting!


Beth Jackson 3 years ago

We really like our countertops from Web Don. We have GEOS recycled glass..it looks amazing!!

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