A Comparison of Natural & Composite Surfaces

Green Architect

In the 'green' world, it might instinctively seem like natural is always better. But when comparing natural stone with recycled and composite products, the greener choice might not be what you think.

Last week I had a great meeting with countertop fabricator, Cosentino. Cosentino is a well-known and respected countertop maker that fabricates quartz, marble, soapstone and most recently, a recycled content surface, Eco. During the presentation, the Cosentino representative made a compelling argument for using composite/recycled surfaces instead of natural stone when looking for a eco-friendly surface material.

Natural Surfaces

  • While natural materials might seem like the go-to green choice, when it comes to stone, this is not always true. Natural stone, unless purchased used or salvaged, is a virgin raw material with high embodied energy due to the mining process.
  • There is a lot of material lost during the mining and fabrication process — when stone is mined it is excavated in large pieces, which can break during transportation. Once the stone is cut down to size, cracks, crevices and other imperfections are found, which must be removed and in the end only 25% of the quarried material can be used as a finished product.
  • Most natural stones are prone to staining, require sealing and are even known to off-gas radon.
  • Each piece of finished stone is beautiful and unique, but this uniqueness makes stone very difficult to match or replace in sections if needed for future repair or additions.

Recycled/Composite Surfaces

  • Recycled surfaces are made from post-consumer and post-industrial content, thus they have a lower embodied energy than natural stone. They can be made from recycled glass, mirrors, ceramics, porcelain quarry waste, ash and natural pigments and bound with vegetable based resins.
  • The manufacturing process for recycled countertops is very precise and produces a homogeneous, consistent and stable material. The material content is mixed together in a way to produce a nearly identical product, making replacement and matching much easier than with natural stone.
  • Most recycled surfaces are scratch, stain, and heat resistant and are very low maintenance and very durable.

So next time you find yourself choosing between a natural or recycled material, don't make any assumptions and do your research to find the most eco-friendly option.

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(Image via Silestone)