Sustainable kitchen: green benchtops
In many Australian homes the kitchen is an early target for renovation and a source of inexhaustible pride for homeowners. But what is the sustainability potential for this space’s centerpiece…the kitchen benchtop?
|LightHome was contacted by Sally Dillon, who is looking for a non-toxic coating for a granite kitchen benchtop. “I chose granite because I didn't want wood laminate filled with urea formaldehyde glue,” she says. “Now I find out granite is often sealed with polyurethane. Ideally I'd like something I could apply myself.”
While impartial information on benchtop sealers isn’t readily available, we have published the links to some of the greenest, non-toxic materials available, below.
Sally’s question also prompted LightHome to do some more investigation into this hub of Australian households, to compare some of the most environmentally sustainable kitchen countertops available.
If properly maintained, a natural stone bench top (such as marble or granite) should last the lifetime of the house. The longevity of the stone can offset the greenhouse gases created during its quarrying, manufacturer and transport…but that’s only if it withstands the design tastes of the home’s occupants.
Unlike wooden countertops, stone is not renewable, and unlike stainless steel, it can’t be recycled. However, stone benchtops can be reused, or ‘down-cycled’ into other products, such as engineered stone.
Wooden and green
Wooden surfaces are a must have for some homeowners, and if the timber is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), you can be rest assured you’re not contributing to the decline of old growth forests.
Adding to this, if you source wood that is native to your region, you will also be cutting down on transport emissions and thus the embodied energy in the finished product.
While many homeowners have a soft spot for hardwood, bamboo is another eco-friendly alternative. It’s fast growing, durable and longer lasting than many other timbers – you can read more about its sustainability characteristics in a previous LightHome article.
But by far the greenest wood countertop of all is reclaimed or recycled wood, which can also have some stunning aesthetic features.
Today, stainless steel is made up of approximately 60% recycled content including 25% reclaimed scrap, 35% industrial scrap, and 40% new raw materials, according to the Australian Stainless Steel Development Association (ASSDA)
While the manufacturer of stainless steel is notoriously energy intensive, this material’s environmental points are scored at the end of its (considerably long) life when a stainless steel countertop can be 100% recycled.
There are a number of alternatives to stone slabs now available, made from a range of recycled materials from fly ash to glass, which can be used as a sustainable compromise to traditional or engineered stone counters.
BottleStone – a Californian-based ceramic material manufacturer has released a new benchtop material made from recycled glass, which they claim is a “breakthrough” in ceramic and recycling technologies, combining the virtues of high recycled content, zero emissions, and low embodied energy.
Paper composite countertops stand as a green alternative to the ill famed laminate materials, which often contain volatile organic compounds in the glues used for the particleboard or bonding the laminate sheet, which can compromise the air quality of a home.
Paper composite benchtops offer the same durability of laminate without all the chemicals, by impregnating post-consumer recycled paper with a small amount of resin.
EcoTop – supplied by interior design specialist Baresque – comprises of a 50/50 fibre blend of 100% post consumer recycled fibre and renewable bamboo fibre. It’s then bound with a clear 100% water-based system.
Some laminate countertops however, have improved their green credentials - such as the Laminex Group’s Greenfirst range of high-pressure laminates, which have been certified by Good Environmental Choice Australia.
Green Benchtop sealers
Stone Benchtop Magic