In the kitchen
Making your kitchen eco-friendly may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Sure if you’re planning to do a remodel, you can make greener choices starting with the bare bones such as cupboards, countertops, flooring, and paint. This article focuses on these areas of the kitchen.
No worries if a kitchen re-model is not on your to-do list anytime soon, you can start by choosing eco-friendly cookware, buying in bulk, and cutting down on the amount of waste generated day-to-day in the kitchen. Check out my Eco-friendly Kitchen Part II article for more everyday ideas for an eco-friendly kitchen.
No matter where you are on your eco-friendly conquest, these articles can help you along the way.
Picking eco-friendly cupboards is not as tough a challenge as you may think, thanks to the Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA).
What is the Environmental Stewardship Program? Glad you asked.
ESP is not a psychic ability in this sense, instead it is a third-party certification which ensures that the manufacturers are in compliance with the following five categories:
- air quality
- product resource management
- process resource management
- environmental stewardship
- community relations
The ESP goes beyond other environmental programs by taking a holistic approach to certification, holding the industry to high standards for their products, forest sustainability and manufacturing processes. The voluntary certification program provides a tangible way for cabinet manufacturers to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.
What is awesome about this certification is that it is conducted by a third-party, which is really important since it is not a label that can get slapped onto any just any product. Also, it is voluntary, so only manufacturers that really want to make a positive environmental impact will be likely to seek out this certification.
Keeping an eye out for this stamp of approval while searching for sustainable, eco-friendly kitchen cabinets should make your life a little easier.
Afraid you will be limited in your options for eco-friendly countertops? Don’t be! There are so many beautiful, functional green options for your countertops, you just may have trouble choosing just one!
What? You’ve never heard of recycled paper countertops before? Well, me either, so I did some digging (internet digging, that is) and this is what I came up with.
Recycled paper or paper composite countertops are made with post-consumer recycled paper and other fibers that are mixed with natural pigments and petroleum-free, formaldehyde-free resins. This mixture is then compressed and baked at very high temperatures in order to create a solid, long-lasting product.
- durable (harder than wood countertops)
- handle heat well
- non-porous (hygienic and impervious to water and food stains)
- easy to clean
- easy installation
- cheaper than granite
- unrecyclable because of the plastic resin used (they can be repurposed, however)
- require a sealant to make them nonporous and stain resistant
- available in medium and dark tones only
- they tend to darken over time
There are a couple main manufacturers of composite paper countertops.
Both Richlite and Paperstone boast using recycled paper fiber and are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified by the Smartwood program of the Rainforest Alliance. This ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits.
Richlite is also GREENGUARD accredited. Products that have achieved GREENGUARD Certification are scientifically proven to meet some of the world’s most rigorous, third-party chemical emissions standards, helping reduce indoor air pollution and the risk of chemical exposure while aiding in the creation of healthier indoor environments.
How to choose
These companies are quite similar when it comes to sustainability and environmentally friendly practices, so how do you choose which one to use? Well, it comes down to personal taste. Each manufacturer uses a different combination of colored paper and resin, resulting in distinct looking countertops. You choose the one you like the best and feel good about it!
Recycled Glass Countertop
If you love bold, unique splashes of color, this countertop may be the one for you.
Think about it, that wine bottle you put in your recycling box last week could end up in someone else’s kitchen- as a countertop! How cool is that?
- scratch resistant
- UV resistant
- available in many different colors
- original- every countertop is different
- non-porous- easy to clean, stain resistant
- fairly expensive (but still not as much as granite)
Manufactured in Brooklyn, IceStone uses 100% recycled glass, Portland cement, and non-toxic pigments to make their countertops.
They hold two third-party certifications.
The Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard is a rigorous multi-attribute assessment that takes into consideration material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
Choosing a product certified by NSF lets you know the company complies with strict standards and procedures imposed by NSF. From extensive product testing and material analyses to unannounced plant inspections, every aspect of a product’s development is thoroughly evaluated before it can earn our certification.
As well as making an eco-friendly, sustainable product, IceStone is striving for sustainability in their facility. Their factory is daylit by skylights (reducing energy consumption), water is recycled and reused, any leftover glass and cement can be recycled, and they are working toward being a zero-waste facility (they are currently at 90%).
Manufactured in Georgia, Vetrazzo uses both pre and post-recycled glass in their countertops.
They are committed to sustainable practices and are used in LEED buildings.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. LEED provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement.
This is wood that has come from a barn, factory, warehouse, or some other older structure finding new life as your countertop.
- super sustainable- you’re basically recycling a renewable resource
- unique, rustic looking
- strong and durable
- scarce- reclaimed wood is very popular, making it harder to find
- wood may have been exposed to chemicals such as VOC’s or lead paint in its original state, difficult to know which wood has been exposed
There are many manufacturers of reclaimed wood countertops, try and stick with local if you can. If local is not an option, here are a couple you should consider.
Their antique reclaimed wood countertops are custom milled using hand-picked antique wood from old buildings.
Elmwood Reclaimed Timber uses environmentally green practices, is third-party certified by FSC, and is used in LEED projects.
As well as being eco-friendly, Elmwood Reclaimed Timber gives back to their community of Kansas City using a portion of their profits each year.
Grothouse boasts having an eco-friendly factory, set upon a 50-acre farm where they use solar power and other energy efficient materials to reduce energy consumption. They use wood scraps to heat their radiant flooring, donate tons of sawdust to local farmers for bedding, among other green initiatives.
Grothouse is also FSC certified and is used in LEED projects.
Stainless Steel Countertops
Want an indestructible countertop? Look no further than 100% recyclable stainless steel.
- durable and resilient
- non-porous- stain resistant and easy to clean
- heat resistant- no need to put potholders down under a hot pot
- rust resistant
- clean and contemporary look
- reflections make the kitchen look bigger than it actually is
- easy installation
- scratches- not necessarily a bad thing as it adds character to your countertop
- dents and dings
- can appear cold and sterile
- finger smudges aplenty
Stainless steel countertops are available at big box stores such as Home Depot. Also, try a local stainless steel manufacturer in your area. If you can buy local, do it!
If neither of those is an option for you, or you want to try someone else, check out Stainless Steel Kitchens Inc.
Stainless Steel Kitchens boasts using green manufacturing including no pollutants, chemicals, or contaminants required to form or assemble the product, essentially it’s non-toxic. Also, their countertops are made from 65-80% recycled stainless steel. The countertop itself is also recyclable after it has served its purpose in your kitchen.
As well, Stainless Steel Kitchens is a member of the US Green Building Council and their countertops are used in LEED projects.
Recycled Plastic Countertop
A countertop manufacturer that uses recycled plastic, yes, please! An additional way to keep plastics out of our landfills and oceans is A-OK with me.
- not very heat resistant
- scratches easily
A Finnish company called Durat is the leader when it comes to recycled plastic countertops. They use post-industrial waste that would otherwise be destined for the landfill to make their products.
They strive for sustainability, using 100% renewable energy in their manufacturing facility.
As well, their countertops are 100% recyclable at the end of their life, they even offer to recycle the spent countertop themselves so you don’t have the extra hassle.
Backsplashes add a certain kind of completeness to a kitchen. Not only are they stylish, but they are also functional. It’s much easier cleaning splatters off of a backsplash than it is a bare wall.
Let’s look at some eco-friendly options to spruce up your kitchen.
- Same material as your countertop. Use extra countertop material as a backsplash. It’s a good way to use it up and have continuity in your kitchen.
- Recycled glass tiles. Made from post-consumer and industrial waste. Similar to recycled glass countertops, they come in a variety of beautiful, original designs. Try to find a local, reputable dealer to ensure you are getting a quality product.
- Recycled ceramic tiles. These are generally a mix of post-consumer and new materials. They are made with waste from tile manufacturing, mixed and processed into ceramic tiles. This may not be the most eco-friendly option, but it is saving the waste from going to a landfill, so that is something.
- Cork tile. Cork is renewable and recyclable. It needs a bit of annual maintenance (sealant to keep it waterproof) but other than that it is a great, stylish option.
- Recycled clay tile. Check out Fireclay Tile for these little gems. Handmade in California, the tiles are made from over 70% recycled material. Tiles are available in a multitude of colors, so design issues should not be a problem. They also have a pretty sweet sustainable manufacturing facility to boot.
- Reclaimed wood. Not just for your countertops or floors. Try it as a backsplash too.
Picking the right type of flooring for your lifestyle is never an easy task. Tack on the additional task of choosing an eco-friendly kitchen floor and you have yourself a conundrum.
No worries, take a breath and relax. There are a lot of eco-friendly flooring types to choose from. Read over the upside and downside for each and try and pick the flooring type that works best for your situation. It won’t be easy, but you can do it!
Cork is a renewable resource, coming from the bark of the cork oak tree and is harvested periodically from living trees, without harming them. The cork is ground up, compressed, and formed into sheets using resins.
- soft, cushion-like surface
- good insulator
- can be refinished
- easy installation
- easily maintained
- susceptible to damage
- faded by sunlight
- if not sealed properly, water can damage it
If you’re not a fan of hearing every footstep in your kitchen, you might want to give cork a try as it absorbs the sound and reduces the tappa tappa tappa of feet in motion.
Bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource, it’s actually a type of grass. I have a pretty thorough article all about bamboo here if you want to check it out.
- easily maintained
- water resistant
- can be refinished
- may emit small amounts of VOC’s depending on the adhesive used in manufacturing
- prone to scratches
- although water resistant, it is still a natural material and water will damage it if left for a long period of time, or a flood
- can not withstand high amounts of humidity
- no reliable grading system, need find a reputable flooring dealer to help with choosing high quality bamboo
- questionable harvesting practices, again find a reputable dealer to help choose a truly eco-friendly bamboo flooring manufacturer
Bamboo is a great option for kitchen floors, but because of the lack of certifications, the onus is on you to find a manufacturer that follows eco-friendly practices when processing bamboo.
Although marmoleum is a kind of linoleum, it’s not your grandma’s kitchen floor. It is made with natural ingredients such as linseed oil, limestone, tree resins, natural pigments, wood flour and jute. As well it is made without VOC’s or other toxic chemicals. It is installed using solvent-free adhesives or no adhesives at all.
- variety of colors and patterns
- absorbs noise
- insulates, making it feel warm
- hides scratches
- easy to clean
- long lasting
- unrecyclable at the end of its life, however it does not emit harmful chemicals as it breaks down in the landfill
- porous- requires regular polishing to maintain
- difficult to install, best let the professionals handle it
Marmoleum holds a couple of third-party certifications, including SMART, and Asthma and Allergy friendly.
SMART certification is a rating system developed by the Institute for Market Transportation to Sustainability (MTS).
MTS dedicates its entire operation to raising awareness of the positive impact that manufacturing, promoting, and purchasing sustainable product choices has on every aspect of our daily lives.
They assess the overall sustainability of a product. Their ratings range from sustainable, to gold, silver, and platinum. Platinum being the most sustainable rating.
Marmoleum rates as Platinum, making it eligible to be used in LEED projects.
The certification is administered by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) in partnership with the international research organization, Allergy Standards Limited (ASL).
Asthma and Allergy Friendly is an independent program created to scientifically test and identify consumer products that are more suitable for people with asthma and allergies.
The Certification Program independently tests and identifies consumer products that are more suitable for the 60+ million people in the United States living with asthma and allergies.
Marmoleum is a great option for those with allergies as well as those looking for a durable, long lasting flooring option.
Using reclaimed wood for your kitchen flooring is an excellent way to give wood otherwise destined to a landfill, a new life. It is already worn, so you don’t have to worry about that first scratch or stain that is bound to happen. Actually, any damage that happens in a busy kitchen only enhances this floorings rustic appeal.
- unique and beautiful
- more choice of wood- species of trees that have died can still be used since it is reclaimed from old structures
- denser and stronger than new wood
- less affected by temperature and humidity than new wood
- false claims of reclaimed wood, make sure to buy from a reputable manufacturer or dealer
- more expensive than new wood
- wood may have come in contact with VOCs in its lifetime
- you have to make sure the wood is kiln baked to kill off any bugs that may be lurking
If you are looking for a unique, one of a kind floor that is already worked in for you, try reclaimed hardwood. You won’t be stressing about the kids or dog marking up your nice new floor because any additional marks make reclaimed hardwood all the more charming. Just make sure you use a reputable dealer as they can prevent almost all of the downsides listed above.
Paint is important, right? I mean, it’s on all the walls of the house. We are surrounded on a daily basis by it. Our kids and pets lick it. We look at it ALL THE TIME. Picking a nontoxic, safe paint is super important, and not a task to take lightly.
Ok, I got a little serious there, but I think you get the point.
How to pick an eco-friendly paint
There are a few factors to consider when picking a nontoxic paint. Be sure to steer clear of the following chemical offenders.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): these are tricky little toxic emissions that seep out into our air causing us anything from headaches and dizziness to memory loss. Keep these to an absolute minimum.
- Fungicides and biocides: used to keep mildew at bay and preserve the overall life of the paint, these horrible additives contaminate both indoor and outside air. They are still detectable 5 years later. Just say NO to these, no exceptions.
Lucky for us in this great eco-conscious world that is developing, there are a ton of options that are either no or low VOCs and fungicide/biocide free.
Check out these five eco-friendly paints to help get you started.
Benjamin Moore has been around for a long time, so it should be fairly easy to find their Natura line in a paint store near you. The Natura line boasts:
- Asthma and Allergy Friendly Certified
- Zero VOC
- Zero Emissions
Behr is another brand that is widely available. Their Premium Plus line should be easy to locate in a big box or paint store. The Premium Plus line boasts:
- Green Guard Gold Certified
- low emissions
- Meets LEED requirements
- Low odor
This brand is also widely available, so purchasing it from a big box or paint store should not be a problem. The Harmony line boasts:
- Zero VOC
- Green Guard Gold Certified
- Low odor
Colorhouse is not as easy to find at your local paint store, but it is available to purchase online here. Colorhouse boasts:
- Recycled content containers
- 100% post-consumer waste chlorine free labels
- LEED Gold manufacturing facility
- Headquarters uses renewable energy
- Paint drop off facility
- take your unused portion of paint there so it can be recycled and not end up in a landfill
- LEED compliant paint
- Green Wise certified
- third-party organization (Coatings Research Group) that tests products to ensure they meet or exceed the VOC requirements of LEED
- certified products do not contain certain chemicals which have been determined to be harmful to humans or our environment
- South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) certified
- certified products have VOC levels well below the ‘Low VOC’ level
- MPI Extreme Green Certified
- The most rigorous environmental standard in the world which requires durability, emissions compliance, and very low VOCs
These paints are found at Farrow & Ball retail stores located in most big cities, as well as on their website here. Their range of paint boasts:
- water-based paints available in 132 colors
- low VOCs
- no solvents used or emissions released in manufacturing
- paint tins can be recycled at local recycling centers
- meets the toy safety standard
- A United States Consumer Product Safety Commission third-party test determining the product is safe for children based on a variety of comprehensive standards
- 97% of waste created in manufacturing is recyclable
- 50% of their packaging uses recycled materials
Now that you have some ideas on the kinds of paint you may want to use in your eco-friendly kitchen, let’s look at how to apply it to your walls.
Eco-Friendly Painting Accessories
There are a few things to purchase in addition to paint before you can start your kitchen transformation. Since you went so far to get eco-friendly paint, why stop there? Here are some ideas for eco-friendly stir sticks, brushes, rollers, tarps, and trays to help keep your kitchen painting as green as possible.
These are generally made out of wood. To keep them eco-friendly try to find recycled wood stir sticks. They are found pretty easily on Amazon here. These stir sticks are compostable and biodegradable and made from heat-treated recycled hardwood. You could ask your paint retailer for recycled wood stir sticks as well, you may just get them for free!
Honestly, there are not a whole lot of options when it comes to eco-friendly paint brushes. Someone should really get on that, it would be a great market for eco-friendly paint manufacturers if they also made eco-friendly brushes (hint,hint!). The best advice I can give you is to reuse your brush as many times as humanly possible to get the most out of it before its final fate lying in a garbage bag at the landfill. I wish I had better news, but alas I do not.
I didn’t fair too much better with my quest to find eco-friendly paint rollers. I only found two and they do not seem to be very easy to purchase. Seriously, this is a market that is in dire need of products. If anyone reading this has the skills to make these, it could be very profitable as you will have very little competition.
I digress, here are the two eco-friendly paint rollers I managed to find:
Whizz Green Recycled Roller Cover: This roller cover is made from over 90% post recycled material recoverd from water bottles. It is available on Amazon here.
Quick Solutions Earth Tones Recycled Fibre Paint Roller Cover: Made from 100% recycled fibers. Available for purchase here.
Don’t feel bad if you can’t find an eco-friendly brush or roller when it comes time to paint. Just try to use whichever brush and roller you choose as much as possible before sending it off to the landfill. While it would be amazing to be eco-friendly in every single aspect of home improvement, it is unlikely at this time. There are just not enough products out there for the general consumer in all areas. Do you best and be happy with the eco-friendly choices you have made and continue to make them as much as reasonably possible.
In order to keep your floors and other items paint-free as you paint your walls, you need to cover them with something. There are a couple of options for eco-friendly drop sheets, reusable fabric and biodegradable plastic or paper.
- Reusable Canvas: Made from cotton. Machine washable so you can use it many times over. It is biodegradable so it’s easy to dispose of in a commercial compost at the end of its life. Green Atmos makes these available on Amazon here.
- Biodegradable Drop Cloths: Trimaco makes both biodegradable plastic and paper drop sheets. They can be easily found at Home Depot.
If you have the room to store a drop cloth, go for the reusable canvas. No worries if you don’t though, head to the shelves of your local Home Depot and pick up a biodegradable drop cloth instead.
If you are using a roller, you need a paint tray. They pretty much go hand in hand. Finding an eco-friendly paint tray is just about as tricky as finding eco-friendly rollers, but they do exist. Here are a couple that I found:
- Reusable Metal Tray: If you have the space to keep a paint tray, opt for the reusable variety. A reusable metal tray is the most eco-friendly as it can be used over and over and over again.
- Biodegradable Paint Tray: If you do not have space to store a metal paint tray, you can try using a biodegradable paint tray. However, they are not easy to find. You may be better off purchasing a metal one and then selling it once you are finished or give to a friend who may need a paint tray or has a garage to store it in.
Once you have painted your kitchen, you need to clean your brushes, rollers, and trays so they can be used next time. How do you do that in an eco-friendly fashion? Just like this.
Cleaning your paint supplies
Despite the fact that you are using low or no VOC paint, there are still chemicals lurking about that should be considered when cleaning your painting tools. So here is how you clean them as environmentally sound as possible.
- Squeeze any excess paint from the brush back into the can. If the paint is already dried on, rinse the brush in water and squeeze with dry newspaper to remove the paint.
- Rinse the brush with warm, soapy water (dish soap is fine). It’s best to use buckets for this step as you don’t want paint remnants going into your septic system or municipal sewer system. Use one bucket for the soapy water and another bucket of plain water for rinsing.
- Keep washing and rinsing until brushes are totally clean. Wipe them on newsprint to test their cleanliness. When it wipes clear, you are good to go. Let the clean paint brushes air dry.
- Let the paint laden water evaporate outside for several days until you are just left with the sediment. If it’s winter and that is impossible, you can use kitty litter or sand to speed up the process.
- Since you used non-toxic paint, you can throw out the paint debris from the bottom of the buckets into the trash. However, if you want to be certain that you are reducing your pollution as much as possible, take the remnants to your municipal hazardous waste disposal center where they will be disposed of (incinerated) in a proper manner.
I hope you found this information useful and that it helps you with your eco-friendly kitchen reno journey.
Have you remodeled your kitchen recently or have you eco-friendly-ized any other room in your house? Let me know what you did and how you did it in the comments below.