Taking Your Countertops Green

Taking Your Countertops Green

While paper is more often valued for the information printed on it, once it hits the recycling bin, most consumers assume recycled paper lives out its days as recycled fast food bags, paper office supplies or shredded packing material.

Quality recycled paper products, however, have been quietly making a name for themselves in the homebuilding industry in everything from quality wall board and paper fiber carpets to wallpaper and, of all things, sturdy countertops.

Perhaps most surprisingly, countertops crafted with recycled paper are more stain- and scratch-resistant than wood products, as colorful as more pricey materials and add design appeal that rivals that of granite, glass or steel.

An unlikely use for flimsy recycled junk mail and grocery sacks, paper countertops are far from something anyone would shred or burn. Mixed with non-toxic, land-based resins, such as one product made from cashew shells, paper-based countertops offer a budget-conscious, green alternative with design appeal, ease of installation and performance.

Two primary manufactures offer recycled-paper-based countertops and a handful of other products. PaperStone (paperstoneproducts.com) offers countertops, wall coverings and rain sheets while Richlite (richlite.com) offers, in addition to hard surfaces for tables and counters, cutting boards, prep tables and even skateboard ramps.

While recycled paper products may hit the recycle bin in varying shades of white, countertops derived from the recycled version are so aesthetically pleasing and functional, says Phoenix Organics manager Ajit Singh, that sample installations at the local store receive a steady stream of compliments from customers.

"When they see it they have a lot of questions. Everyone really seems to like the product," Singh says.

"It has a very warm look and it's solid color all the way through so if you have rough scratches on top you can always buff it out and still have the color. It's a totally warm and friendly product."

Derived from sustainably harvested trees and recycled paper pulp products in varying levels of recycled material content — from 5 to 100 percent, depending on the manufacturer's particular line — recycled-paper-based countertops are less shiny than granite, offering a natural, matted look, but can be waxed and polished for added sheen.

Design-wise, PaperStone offers a dozen colors that include shades such as cabernet, denim and mocha, while Richlite's assortment runs the gamut from merlot and sage to nutmeg.

Cost for raw materials start around $30 per square foot, notes Elk Creek Casework owner Dave Carlson, one of a handful of contractors in Southern Oregon who install recycled-paper-

based countertops. Installation prices are similar to those of solid surface materials such as Corian.

Carlson encourages consumers to view samples of either product before making a decision to purchase, and to evaluate performance reviews online. A word of advice, some colors change with time and use though still maintain a natural, matted appearance.

"It's a really nice product, but some of the materials are more likely to watermark than others. For example, black is one of the colors that require more maintenance," he says.

All told, paper countertops are one of the industry's best new products.

"I think it's a great product. It's really easy to machine and work with and there's been a lot of interest in it over the past year," adds Carlson.

"Both lines are adding new colors all the time. Performance-wise, it's hard to beat. It looks really nice and it outperforms and has better heat resistance than some of the other higher-end products on the market."

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