Choosing a kitchen countertop is not just about style, durability, beauty, and cost. You also need to consider the environmental impact of producing the materials that will eventually end up in your kitchen. It is a question of sustainability, and one that most owners may not be aware need answering. Below is a brief description of its impact on the environment as well as performance features.
Kind of Countertops
Wood is still a basic component of any countertop, if only for support structures. However, wood countertops are still widely used, and the environmental impact of its production is relatively small. There is no process involved outside of cutting down the right tree. You might think that the mere fact of a tree being cut down is enough of an environmental impact, but most new wood countertops today are “sustainably harvested.” The wood comes from a managed forest, and are often fast-growing species, such as pine, because they are more easily replaced than wood like oak. Wood countertops are also easy to clean using just soap and water, and it does not encourage the build up of bacteria with proper sealing. Wood countertops are also easily recyclable, which is another point in its favor. Some wood does require some regular oiling, sanding, and sealing, however.
Marble and granite
Natural stone such as marble and granite have a considerable impact on the environment. They have to be excavated and cut out of the earth, cut into slabs, and transported a long way to get to different showrooms. That said, marble and granite last for many years, usually much longer than wood or any other organic material, and they are highly recyclable. You can reduce the energy costs by using recycled or salvaged stone, or get them from local sources to reduce transportation. Granite, in particular, is the most abundant natural stone on earth, which makes it highly sustainable. However, granite and marble are porous, and need special maintenance.
Ceramic tiles are very popular because they are readily available and relatively durable. They can chip and crack, but they are easy to replace. They are easy to clean, resistant to heat, and comes in a wide variety of colors, sizes, and tiles. However, producing ceramic tiles involve huge expenditures of energy because the tiles are fired in the kiln two times. The choice of grout sealer is also important to keep it a healthy option for countertops. It should have low levels of volatile organic compounds and no formaldehyde. The costs of installation can be high, depending on circumstances.
Concrete is a good option for countertops because it is heat resistant and scratch proof, and it is very affordable. It can look very attractive and unusual when properly mixed with natural and non-toxic pigment and treated to prevent cracking. However, in terms of manufacturing the cement itself, the energy and environmental costs are high. It produces pollution more than other countertop materials. Mixing in recycled materials such as fly ash and glass can mitigate some of this environmental effects, and produce an exotic countertop at the same time.
Made primarily of quartz, polyester resin, and pigments, engineered stone is a synthetic material that simulates the look of natural stone such as granite. It is durable and non-porous, and requires little or no maintenance. It also requires no sealing, and does not stain or scratch. Many designers like engineered stone because they are readily available in a wide range of colors and designs, so it is easier to match with the overall kitchen design. Engineered stone is available as brand names such as Silestone, Caesarstone, and Zodiaq.
A laminate countertop is inexpensive and require very little maintenance. Back in the day, the paper and resins all had high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC), but that is no longer the case. Many laminates today use recycled plastic and paper, and low VOC non-toxic adhesives, so it is healthy in both an environmental and human health sense. It is better not to install laminates on plywood, as this releases VOCs, and should be fastened mechanically instead or with using glue. You can ensure you select laminates with low emissions by choosing those with Greenguard certification. However, laminates are not heat resistant and non-recyclable. Any damage is impossible to repair, and in the best case scenario, it will last for 20 years at most before they need replacing. Despite efforts to make them more environmentally friendly, most of them still end up in landfills.
Solid surface countertops are durable and can last for a long time. It is non-reactive and non-porous, with little or no VOC emissions. Scratches and nicks can be removed with a non abrasive scrubbing pad. A solid surface countertop itself is made of resins, usually acrylic or polyester, and fillers, usually bauxite ore producing aluminum. They are also relatively expensive.
Many industrial kitchens favor stainless steel countertops because they are resistant to heat, stain, scratches, and they do not harbor bacterial growth. It is the only countertop that can hold up under bleach. However, the impact on the environment is extensive. Stainless steel is made of steel, nickel a, and chromium, all of which are mined and processed using tremendous amounts of energy and producing considerable pollution. They are also expensive.The good thing is stainless steel is recyclable, but overall, it is not looking good for stainless steel.