Eco warriors as well as workhorse worktops

There's no need to sacrifice good looks and wonderful colour options when choosing environmentally-friendly worktops

Richlite is made from recycled paper

This owners of this property chose Richlite for their kitchen worktops. Richlite, which has third party eco accreditations coming out of its ears, is manufactured on the US West Coast, and available in the UK and mainland Europe. It's green, being made from FSC-certified paper/recycled paper and a non-urea formaldehyde resin.

If you're putting in a new kitchen and are thinking about eco-friendly worktops, you are going to be spoilt for choice. Responsibly sourced wood and stone are perennial favourites, but you might be interested in a few other products that have superb environmental credentials as well as fabulous good looks.  Four stand out in particular:

And let's not forget good old wood. Wood worktops can look terrific but ensure they are treated so they won't rot or expand due to coming into contact with water. Choose wood worktops that have FSC or PEFC certification. Oak is the most popular wood, but you can find pine ones. Wood looks natural and it and wood can be far less expensive than the materials listed above. The first three of theses are fairly similar in price, starting at around £500-£600 per linear metre, which is not cheap, of course, but they compare well to the cost of granite or solid surface materials, such as Corian and Hi-Macs. Swiss CDF is a fairly new FSC-certified wood fibre material and it's considerably cheaper, starting at around £150 per linear metre. 

Richlite is manufactured on the US West Coast, in Tahoma, near Seattle..and we know that folks in that neck of the woods are trailblazers for eco living. It's made from 65 per cent paper and that paper is always FSC-certified, and some products in the range are FSC-recycled paper. The basic product dates back some 60 years, but it's gone through various incarnations and the Richlite material now on sale is a new product in terms of texture, colourways, ingredients and densities. 

Two colous of Richlite are used in this kitchen
Richlite colours
Richlite develops a patina over time, as wood does. Lighter colours will also darken
Swiss CDF is a new product from Kronospan. It's made from FSC wood fibre and can be used for worktop
Richlite is available with a choice of eyecatching edges

Richlite is available in the UK through Surface Matter and it's a product that's really gaining traction here. It is a very attractive, environmentally-friendly, natural product made from paper compressed in a thermosetting resin, which while a petro-based resin, does not contain urea formaldehyde, which is makes it stable and not carcinogenic. All the paper used is FSC and some ranges are FSC recycled paper. RIchlite has undergone a life cycle analysis and you would expect it to last in situ for a good 50 years, after which is can be recycled.

The darker shades may look like granite initially, but Richlite will develop a patina as the years go by, as wood does, and this gives it character. 'And the lighter colours will darken, so the look will change subtly over time,' says Campbell. 

He points out that Richlite is a very green manufacturer, with advanced water, gas and heat recycling processes at its plant, which means CO2 emissions are very low. 'It's a closed-loop manufacturing system, so waste gases produced in the manufacturing process are re-used as heating fuel, ' he says. 

Richlite is available in various thicknesses, and customers can choose from a range of edges if they don't want a plain colour. 'It's a tremendously versatile material, very easy to work with, it's warm and tactile -  and the baking industry loves it because pastry doesn't stick to it! says Campbell.

So Richlite is an eco goody, but so too is British born and bred Resilica, which is a beautiful material developed by Gary Nicholson, who runs the business. 

Eco in white from Cosentino is a very attractive material that feels like a quartz worktop
You can see flecks of glass in the material, which give it a reflective quality
Stave hardwood worktops at deVol kitchens
Kava oak worktop from GoodHome
Purple is eminently possible with Resilica

Resilica is made from recycled glass and what's most surprising is that it's a cold, not hot, manufacturing process. Nicholson, who launched the product 12 years ago, has been refining it and adding to its colour palette.  Resilica has, he asserts, many eco benefits:

It's manufactured using up to 100% recycled waste glass, reducing landfill and destructive stone quarrying; Resilica contains (by weight) 85% recycled content. It's produced using solvent free resins. Once cured these resins are totally inert and contain no VOCs. Water used in the manufacturing process is recycled where possible. The manufacturing process is a ‘cold’ one, with minimal imbued energy. Every piece of Resilica is cast to order to minimize manufacturing waste. Equipment used during manufacturing is cleaned using degradable solvents. Resilica is manufactured entirely in our UK factory, minimising the carbon footprint.

Nicholson is aware that we all assess products according to our own criteria, which may blind us to a bigger picture. He recalls being in the middle of a debate between a wife, who wanted to buy Resilica for her new kitchen, and her husband who wanted granite.

'He was interested only in how long something would last. So he decided granite was the best option as it had already lasted a million years and in theory would last another million... But I felt he did not consider the potential impact the production of granite has on those people involved in extraction, on the landscape and on the eco system of that landscape, nor of the carbon footprint of shipping the granite around the world.  He also did not consider that although the stone itself may indeed last another million years, in all probability it would only last as a worktop for five, 10, perhaps 20 years before someone else moves in and puts it in a skip!'

And how did the story end? 'They did not buy Resilica!' laughs Nicholson.   


Pretty in pink - Resilica
Resilica in a stunning green
Recycled glass worktops from Diamik Glass, based in Leeds

To make decision-making even more difficult, Eco by Spanish quartz surface giant Cosentino, is another very attractive material with impressive green credentials. 

ECO by Cosentino® is composed of 75 per cent post-industrial and post-consumer recycled raw materialsThese include: mirrors salvaged from buildings; glass from windows and bottles; granulated glass, porcelain from china, tiles, sinks and industrial furnace residuals from factories in the form of crystallised ashes. The recycled content is then mixed with other materials including stone waste and is bonded together with a part eco-resin, which contains 22 per cent corn oil.  The company says this resin 'is the result of a major research and development initiative, and is unmatched in the market today'.

Eco comes in a range of colours, and is extremely durable, with a high stain, scratch and scorch resistance. Surfaces are available in jumbo slabs of 327x159cm as well as standard tile sizes. Large slabs allow for a higher square footage of material per container, therefore minimising the product’s carbon footprint, and provides a higher yield of material during fabrication, minimising seams and waste. Slabs are available in 1.2cm, 2cm and 3cm thicknesses. ECO  is manufactured at the Cosentino HQ in Almeria, Spain.

Last but by no means least is a brand new product to the UK, Swiss CDF, a compact density fibreboard manufactured by Swiss manufacturer Kronospan. It is made from FSC-certified wood fibre, and the thermo-setting resin contains non urea formaldehyde

Paul Mullings of Kronospan says the working life of the product used as a worktop of room partition would be around 30 years, after it it could be recycled into another product, or used as a bio-mass to create energy. As to the manufacturer's environmental credentials, well, this is Switzerland and they don't want to sully their pure moutain air. 'Our factory and our processes are world leaders in the production of sustainable wood based products,' says Mullings.

The great thing about Swiss CDF is the extensive range of colours, textures and finishes.