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Composite And Recycled Countertops

Composite and recycled countertops offer some interesting alternatives to the more traditional and well known countertop surfaces. Not only are they made from different (or should we say, less conventional) materials, but they have an eco-concious element to them as well. That's because most of these products are made with environmentally sustainable products and/or manufacturing methods as well as recycled materials.

There's a range of products that fall into this category and while there are a number of different brands and specific products you can choose from, they fall roughly into 3 categories based on the materials they're made from.

Styles range from muted colors with the paper-based products to bright and visually interesting terrazzo patterns made from recycled glass and epoxy.

From a look and feel perspective, they're just the same as the more traditional countertops. In other words, even though they may be made from recycled paper or glass they're still hard, smooth and durable work surfaces.

If you're looking for an alternative to the more conventional countertop materials and also want to use green materials in your kitchen or bathroom, these countertop choices are worth a closer look.

What Are Composite and Recycled Countertops?

recycled countertops

First of all, let's define what we mean by 'composite' and 'recycled' countertops. Composite means that they're made from the combination of several distinct materials but don't really fall under the other standard countertop classifications like laminate or solid surface.

Recycled countertops are not old countertops that have been reprocessed into new ones, but rather, made from recycled and reused materials. In most cases, the terms 'recycled' and 'composite' are used interchangeably since many composite countertops use recycled materials.

Now that it's clear as mud, perhaps some specific examples will help clarify things.

The materials used in composite and recycled countertops are an eclectic bunch. Some products are paper-based using new or recycled paper or a combination of both. Others composite or recycled countertops reuse old glass or a combination of paper, fly-ash (a by-product of coal combustion) and Portland cement. Still others use scrap aluminum chips resulting from the milling process in the production of other products. In most cases, these materials are combined with a "glue" binder made from resins, epoxy or cement that holds the ingredients together and results in a countertop you can ultimately make a sandwich on.

Regardless of what you call them, the appeal of recycled countertops is that they offer a more eco-friendly alternative to standard countertop choices. They make productive use of materials that otherwise would be destined for landfills or the incinerator.

If you're looking for a kitchen countertop that's "greener" than the standard fare, a recycled or composite countertop may be what you're looking for.

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What Are The Benefits - Are There Any Drawbacks?

Composite and recycled countertops are pushing the boundaries of innovation and creativity and offer some very distinct differences in available choices compared to more standard materials. As with any material however, there's always some strong points and weak points.

The Positives...

Composite and recycled countertops offer the following benefits:

  • Positive environmental impact - Most have some measure of positive environmental effect either in the materials and/or the methods used to make the material.
  • Durability and stain resistance on some types - The products that use a large percentage of recycled glass in a cementitious mix offer strength and stain resistance similar to the quartz and engineered stone products. Because 80% to 90% of the surface area is glass, which is non-porous, most of the countertop will be impenetrable to staining. A sealer can protect the remainder of the surface from stains.
  • Innovation and individuality - Some composite and recycled countertop products offer unique looks and design possibilities and haven't yet reached the level of "everybody has it".
  • Good alternate to other countertop materials - Several types of composite and recycled countertops provide good alternatives to other countertop choices by offering similar looks for lower cost or less maintenance; ceramic cement in instead of concrete for example or recycled glass instead of stone.

...And Some Of The Drawbacks

  • Newness within the marketplace - Some composite and recycled countertops are still very new in the marketplace so long term care requirements and durability are yet to be seen.
  • Variability in the amount of "green-ness" - Certain makers of recycled countertops use recycled materials but combine them with petroleum-based binders or other less-green processes. If you're looking for products with a high environmental impact, look closely at what goes into their makeup and production.
  • Level of care required - Products that use concrete or other type of cement-based ingredients require care similar to stone countertops. This usually involves sealing the surface periodically. To do that requires you to move everything off your countertop to seal the surface and let it cure.
  • Repairability - Consider how and if the type of composite or recycled countertop you might choose can be repaired if necessary. A countertop whose surface area is made up of 80-90% of recycled glass might chip if something hard enough is dropped on it. Most product makers eventually develop means for repairs but newer products may not achieve that level of market maturity for a while.
  • Availability - Certain countertops may be harder to get based on a limited dealer network, recency in the marketplace or a combination of both. Most manufacturers ultimately want to sell you their product and will find a way to do that, either directly or through a local dealer/distributor. Buying countertops 'remotely' is not new however the process requires some additional up-front logistics work to ensure it's made, shipped and installed correctly.

As the green building movement becomes more mainstream there's a likelihood for more development of composite and recycled countertop surfaces. If you don't think this type of surface is right for your kitchen, check out these other kitchen countertop surfaces. Surely, there's a right one for your home somewhere in the mix.

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What Are The Choices And Where Can I Find Them?

Here are the choices for composite and recycled countertops. They're broken down into loose categories based primarily on their main ingredients. Click on a particular product to go to more information or just continue reading to find out more about each of them.

Paper-Based Cement-Based With Recycled Contents Epoxy Or Resin-Based With Recycled Contents (Glass, Stone, Aluminum)
Richlite® IceStone® Alkemi
PaperStone™ Vetrazzo® Eco-Terr™
ShetkaSTONE Lithistone GlassSLAB
Squak Mountain Stone™

Richlite®

What Is It

Richlite® is a paper-based composite countertop that's a combination of cellulose fiber (the paper part of the equation) and a resin. This combination is baked to produce a smooth hard surface with a consistency similar to a hard wood. It comes in solid colors and the color is consistent throughout the thickness of the material, similar to solid surface countertops. The paper used to manufacture the product is made from tree pulp, harvested from managed forests. Some recycled paper is used in the process however it's not a specific requirement of the specification.

Richlite® material is not new as it's been used in the aircraft tooling industry as well as for skateboard parks so it's safe to say that it's durable. It has a warmer feel than natural stone and the black color option looks very similar to slate. It's heat resistant up to 350 degrees, and stain and scratch resistant but it can be scratched or gouged if enough force is used. However that's typical with any countertop other than the hard stones.

The material is offered in ¾ inch and 1½ inch thicknesses and sheet sizes up to 5 feet wide by 12 feet long. That allows it to be used on some kitchen islands without the need for seams.

Richlite® must be installed by factory-certified fabricators, similar to solid surface installations. Seams are not totally invisible like you see with solid surface countertops although the nature of the material allows for tighter seams that you can achieve with stone.

Richlite® composite countertops come with a limited lifetime warranty to the original purchaser provided they're installed by a certified fabricator.

Where Can I Find It

Richlite® is available through authorized dealers. See the Richlite Company website for dealers located in your area.
www.richlite.com

Things To Consider

You can order samples directly from the Richlite Company website if you want to check out the product. The samples are small 3" x 2" squares but they're sufficient enough to get an appreciation for the texture and hardness. The nice thing about the samples is that the you can see how the color is consistent throughout the material from the unfinished edges.

The Richlite® website states that the Baguette color noticeably darkens with age due to exposure to ultra-violet light, much like natural Cherry wood does.

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PaperStone™

What Is It

Paperstone is another paper-based countertop product manufactured by KlipTech Bio Composites. Like Richlite it has a smooth, hard texture and comes in several solid colors. It differs from Richlite in that it's made with a non-petroleum, water-based resin. Some of the colors exhibit a mottled look with variations in the intensity of the color.

Paperstone recycled countertops are offered in two product lines; Paperstone Original and Paperstone Certified. The original product uses 50% post-consumer recycled paper content whereas the certified product uses 100% post-consumer recycled paper. Both come with a 10 year limited warranty.

Paperstone does not require certified fabricators to install it so it's available to do-it-yourself'ers or can be installed by your contractor. Seams are visible with Paperstone and they recommend avoiding seams near sinks and cooktop cutouts.

Where Can I Find It

PaperStone dealers are located throughout the US and Canada. See the PaperStone website to locate a dealer in your local area.
www.paperstoneproducts.com

Things To Consider

KlipTech Bio Composites, the company behind PaperStone, has a high focus on environmentally-friendly products. They're using 100% recycled paper in their Certified product line and non-petroleum based phenols in their resin system. If you're interested in minimizing the environmental impact with your new countertops, PaperStone may be one to check out.

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ShetkaSTONE

What Is It

ShetkaSTONE is a hard material made from pre and post-consumer waste paper, plant and/or cloth fibers. These materials are combined with water to form a pulp and through a patented process, are made into hard slabs for use as recycled countertops. The material can be cut, sawn, drilled and nailed similar to the characteristics of wood.

ShetkaSTONE states that water won't affect the material and they went as far as submerging a piece of the material in water for 3 months with no ill effects.

ShetkaSTONE's colors are governed by the types of recycled paper that's used. The use of cardboard results in a brownish hue whereas gray results from the use of newsprint. If you like the color of money, there's a green shade available that's the by-product of recycled paper money.

Where Can I Find It

At this time the best way to get some samples or find out more information is to contact ShetkaSTONE directly.
www.shetkastone.com

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Alkemi

What Is It

Alkemi is a unique product that combines scrap aluminum chips with resin to produce a visually interesting composite and recycled countertop. With the clear resin the aluminum chips are plainly visible beneath the surface. Different color tints are available that highlight and influence the natural silver color of the aluminum, resulting in a colored metallic look. The surface can be finished in a matte or gloss appearance.

The company recently began recycling the by-products of the manufacturing process back into the resins resulting in their Opaque line, in either white or black. Rather than seeing all the aluminum chips through the resin, you see only the edges of the chips that meet the surface. The resultant effect is a multitude of short swirls in a sea of either light or dark opaque resin.

Where Can I Find It

Alkemi composite and recycled countertops are sold and distributed by Renewed Materials, LLC and is currently available in several states within the US. For a list of fabricators in your area, contact Renewed Materials via the contact information on their website.
www.renewedmaterials.com

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Eco-Terr™

What Is It

Eco-Terr composite countertops are a terrazzo-like product that use 75-80% of pre-consumer marble, granite, other stone and glass chips combined with a cement binder to form slabs for countertops and other surfaces. (Terrazzo is the generic term to describe flooring and other surfaces made up of an aggregate of stone or similar materials embedded in a cement or epoxy binder. You've no-doubt walked on them at some time or another and they're pretty common in civic buildings and schools.)

Eco-Terr is made by Coverings Etc, Inc. and is available in a variety of colors with varying sizes and colors of aggregate. Eco-Terr slabs come in 3/4 inch and 1 1/4 inch thicknesses. Slab sizes are 100 inches long by 56 inches wide.

Where Can I Find It

Coverings Etc has 3 showrooms plus additional dealers sprinkled about the US. The best bet is to use the dealer search function on their website to determine if there is a location near you. Otherwise contact them via their contact info link on the website.
www.coveringsetc.com

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GlassSLAB

What Is It

Where do all the used-up wine bottles, mayonnaise jars, porcelain sinks and toilets (yes, toilets) go? Glass Recycled takes them and makes recycled countertops out of them.

Glass Recycled is a company that makes GlassSLAB, a creative eco-friendly surface made up of 100% recycled glass and porcelain. By combining crushed glass and porcelain that would otherwise be headed into a landfill with an epoxy binder, Glass Recycled produces durable terrazzo recycled countertops.

Using different colors in the epoxy along with different colored glass, a wide range of color options and patterns are available. Even better than that however is the fact that you can provide Glass Recycled with a color chip and they will match the color for the countertop. You can even choose the glass colors and chip sizes for a truly customized countertop.

But it gets better. The combination of these ingredients produces a hard surface, similar to granite. No waxing or sealing is necessary. Seams are small but they can also be filled in with a color-matching epoxy and polished for a virtually seamless look.

Where Can I Find It

Glass Recycled countertops are available through local product representatives. The Glass Recycled website has the information on where they are located. The nice thing is that they will ship product to all 50 states and internationally as well so you're not limited if you don't have a dealer right in your local vicinity.
www.glassrecycled.com

Things To Consider

GlassSLAB is available in a range of sizes from about 15 square feet to 56 square feet. Custom sizes are available.

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IceStone®

What Is It

IceStone recycled countertops are made from 100% recycled glass and concrete. Post-consumer and industrial glass otherwise intended for the landfill is crushed and sorted and then combined with the cement. The result is hard composite and recycled countertop surface.

Slab sizes are 52-1/2 inches wide by 96" long and 1-1/4 inches thick. This makes it possible to use single pieces with no seams for an island top, provided it's not too much wider than 4 feet. There are numerous standard colors available however virtually any color can be achieved by adding pigment to the cement matrix. The end result is a surface with a look similar to engineered stone because of the way the glass chips mimic the quartz elements in engineered stone. Because it's absorptive however, it should be sealed with a topical sealer similar to what's used on stone or concrete.

Where Can I Find It

To locate a showroom where you can view the product, visit their website. If none are available in your general area, contact IceStone using the contact information on the website.
www.icestone.biz

Things To Consider

If the philosophy of the company behind the products you purchase matters to you, IceStone may end up on your good corporate citizen list. IceStone, LLC takes numerous steps to be both environmentally and socially responsible. The company is committed to green building practices, using recycled ingredients in their products and operating a daylight-lit factory. More information on these practices and IceStone, LLC's philosophy can be found on their website.

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Lithistone

What Is It

Lithistone is a proprietary magnesium-based ceramic cement used in a variety of hand-made products including sinks and countertop surfaces. This type of cement has the look of concrete or some stone types yet is stronger than concrete. Recycled glass can be mixed for a terrazzo look. Different color combinations allow for veining and marbling effects and decorative inlays can be placed in the surface too.

Countertops are available in custom designs or in modular tiles in 1.5 and 2 inch thickness. The tiles sizes are equivalent to standard cabinet dimensions.

Where Can I Find It

If you're interested in Lithistone, contact them directly via their contact information link on their website. They even sell the cement mixture itself if you're so inclined to try your hand at some creative endeavors.
www.lithistone.net

Things To Consider

Lithistone is susceptible to stains and acidic substances like some stones and concrete. It comes from the fabricator sealed and waxed and LithiStone, LLC recommends periodic waxing every few months. Resealing might be necessary based on the treatment of the product however LithiStone states that it's easily done by the homeowner.

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Vetrazzo®

What Is It

Vetrazzo combines concrete with approximately 80% recycled glass. The end result is a terrazzo-like surface that allows unique color combinations and design possibilities.

Slab sizes run 5 x 9 feet and 1.25 inches thick. Installation of Vetrazzo should be done by a fabricator familiar with granite installations. Like stone countertops, seams will be visible but the random nature of the glass aggregate tends to make them less conspicuous.

Because it's a concrete-based product it will require some care to avoid stains and etching. If the product is installed by an authorized fabricator it will be sealed ahead of time. However periodic resealing may be required every few years according to information from Vetrazzo.

Where Can I Find It

Vetrazzo countertops are available through their network of dealers and fabricators. Their contact information can be found through the Vetrazzo website.
www.vetrazzo.com

Things To Consider

Vetrazzo's dealer network is currently limited to portions of California and Texas within the US. If there are no retailers in your area contact one of the fabricators listed on the Vetrazzo website to discuss purchase options. One Vetrazzo fabricator in the San Francisco, California bay area is Baker Marble and Granite. Their website is www.bakermarble.com.

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Squak Mountain Stone™

What Is It

Squak Mountain Stone is a cement-based composite countertop material made from recycled glass, paper, fly-ash and Portland cement. The materials are formed by hand into 1-1/2 inch slabs and finished with a sealer to prevent staining and damage from acids. The end result resembles a stone or concrete countertop surface.

Since the slabs are hand made each one will have slight variations compared to the next. Seams between adjacent slabs will be visible but can be filled with a color-matching caulk. A natural by-product of the fabrication process is the inclusion of small air pockets or holes on the edges of the slabs. Since they're on the edge of the countertop and not on the surface they can be filled or left alone depending on your preference.

Where Can I Find It

There are showrooms in several western states in the US. If that doesn't happen to be where you are, contact Squak Mountain Stone directly using their contact information on their website.
www.tmi-online.com

Things To Consider

Squak Mountain Stone recommends that undermount sinks be supported by some form of bracing or support structure rather than hanging the sink directly from the material itself.

The material is sealed with an acrylic sealer which will wear off over time, depending on the type of traffic it endures and how it's maintained. The sealer also won't stand up to hot pans being placed on it because it will melt the sealer.

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Publisher's Comments

Every so often a product comes along that gets me excited (...and yes, I do have a life). When that happens it's usually because it creatively meets a need or just 'fits the bill', sort of like the way the perfect tool effortlessly gets the job done.

Among the lineup of composite countertops, one of my personal favorites is GlassSLAB. Here's why --

It's hard, attractive, flexible (from a design standpoint), low maintenance and it has some positive environmental benefits too. The fact that it's made with an epoxy and doesn't need the sealing and care that cement-based products do is appealing. I also like the fact that you can design your own look, by choosing differently colored glass chips of various sizes. Plus you can have the binder color matched to virtually any shade you please.

It's similar to engineered stone in a way but with GlassSLAB you're not using minerals quarried out of the ground but rather, preventing what would otherwise be garbage from going back in. Who knows? Last week's bottle of Chardonnay might just end up permanently on (or should I say in) your countertop.

Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Choosing Kitchen Countertops - If you're still undecided learn more about the countertop choices you have and their pros and cons.

Butcherblock Countertops - How to choose butcherblock countertops.

Engineered Stone Countertops - Engineered stone countertops take the benefits of stone and use a bit of technology to eliminate the undesirable qualities.

Stone Countertops - Discover what's available in the realm of natural stone countertops and how to make the best choice.

Laminate Countertops - There's still a lot to like about them such as durability and low cost.

Solid Surface Countertops - For a seamless look there's no match for solid surface counters.

Metal Countertops - See what metal countertops like stainless steel, copper or pewter have to offer.

Wood Countertops - Wood makes for a beautiful as well as functional work top.



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