Paper countertops

I recently visited an exhibit called The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. The exhibit’s goal is to demonstrate “the emerging collaboration between stylish architecture, interior design, and environmental responsibility” through hands-on exploration of a full-size house containing sustainable products and materials, case histories and models of sustainably-built structures, and material samples. The exhibit helped me understand that good looking products are now readily available that give homeowners “the power to set a new course for a more sustainable future.” You don’t have to be a designer to incorporate sustainable products into your house – it’s a matter of knowledge and choice.

One product that caught my eye was the kitchen and bathroom countertops, which were made of paper, but looked and felt like stone. This composite material is currently produced primarily by two manufacturers, Richlite and Kliptech Composites, using slightly different processes and ingredients. Both manufacturers claim the material is stain resistant, scratch resistant, heat resistant, sanitary, strong, and durable. Prices seem to be roughly equivalent to solid-surface engineered products – in the mid-range, cheaper than stone, but pricier than laminates.

Richlite samples Paperstone installation

The material is not new, however. According to Richlite, paper composites have been “used for decades by the aerospace industry for tooling, the marine industry for fiberglass reinforcement and the action sports industry for outdoor skate ramp surfaces.”

Here is how the Environmental Home Center, an on-line source for sustainable home building products, describes the manufacturing process for Kliptech’s product, Paperstone:

Paperstone has pushed the envelope to develop a lower toxic countertop using recycled materials. Instead of using a phenolic resin, they use a 100% water-based resin that acts as a binding agent for the paper in the product. Paperstone impregnates paper water based based resin, heats and dries it, and then presses and again heats it to yield uniform sheets. Original PaperStone is made from a minimum 50% post-consumer recycled paper, while PaperStone Certified is made from a 100% post-consumer recycled paper.

Richlite, another manufacturer of the product, states:

Richlite® is made primarily of paper purchased from managed forests throughout North America. The paper is treated with resin then pressed and baked to create solid sheets.

I’m encouraged to know that choices like this are becoming more available and better known. Though it will take some time for kitchen and bath designers and retailers, contractors, and homeowners to become familiar with their green choices, I think the trend is toward sustainability. The National Building Museum exhibit is a great way for people to see this product, and the others featured in the exhibit, in a full-size installation. Perhaps if more people learn that green products are now every bit as beautiful and functional as less environmentally-friendly alternatives, there will be greater demand and more innovation.

If I ever have a chance to remodel my kitchen, I’ll know what to do.

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