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Choosing 'Green' Kitchen Worktops

By: Susan Hunt MA - Updated: 7 Apr 2010 | comments*Discuss
Eco-friendly Kitchen Worktop Glass

If you’re planning to update your tired kitchen by installing new worktops, you can choose from a range of ‘greener’ options.

Sadly, no worktop is truly environmentally-friendly but some worktops – such as wood, glass and recycled ceramic - are more eco-friendly than others.

Why Choose a ‘Green’ Worktop?

Many of the ‘greener’ worktops now on sale have lower VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions which means you will be reducing the level of toxins in the air inside your home.

(VOCs are found in many household products from cleaning products to paints and you should bear that in mind when choosing any new product.)

Many manufacturers now include details of the product's VOCs on the packaging since they recognise there is a growing awareness of VOC dangers.

So when you are deciding on a material for your workshops, ask about VOCs and choose a product with a lower level where possible. (It’s also a good idea to check out the amount of formaldehyde within a product.)

Good Choices

WOOD can be an excellent choice for your kitchen assuming that the worktops are made from untreated hardwood certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).

It is a very popular choice because untreated wood is a completely renewable resource. That said, if you can find salvaged wood suitable to use for worktops, this would be an even better option!

When considering untreated wood, you need to remember that unlike some mass-produced kitchen counters a natural wood worktop can be easily stained, dented or burned so you need to take care and ensure that you use a chopping board when cooking and always stand hot pots on a trivet.

One of the best things about wood is that when you finally decide to replace your worktops, the wood can be re-used or turned into wood chippings for use in the garden.

GLASS tiles can be used for worktops and it is possible to buy tiles that are 100% recycled. The process of making glass into tiles is a lot less energy consuming than making tiles from new materials.

In addition, glass tiles do not release any VOCs if a water-based grout is used but it can be difficult to find tiles that are sufficiently uniform to provide a totally flat surface.

That’s why you often see glass tiles used as a sink splashback rather than for the worktop itself.

CERAMIC tiles are not an ideal choice because they need ‘fired’ during production and this uses quite a lot of energy. If, however, you are able to buy pre-owned ceramic tiles in sufficient quantity to produce a worktop then it could be an environmental and cash-saving option.

If you must go for new ceramic tiles, try to find a supplier that stocks tiles made from some recycled materials. Bear in mind that ceramic tiles are very heavy so if you can buy from a local supplier this will significantly reduce the transport emissions involved.

One of the problems with ceramic tiles is that they can be chipped fairly easily so make sure you buy a few more tiles than needed. This means you can simply replace a badly chipped or broken tile rather than having to replace your entire worktop.

PLASTIC worktops (solid surface materials) are not a very good option because they are usually made from non-renewable resources and a lot of energy is used in manufacture.

Currently, plastic consumption is growing by around 4% each year and the majority of it will not be recycled or even re-used because the recycling of plastic is not cost or energy efficient.

If cost is a real issue, however, then try to find a plastic worktop that contains at least some recycled materials.

That way you will know you are at least saving some plastic from landfill and hopefully by the time you want to renew your worktops again, the recycling of plastic may have become the norm rather than the exception.

Finally, it's worth checking out local recycling groups and websites to see if anyone is disposing of a worktop that you could revamp or cut down to suit your kitchen.

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