While durability is an oft-overlooked aspect of green materials, I have been pleasantly surprised about the increasing number of people asking about the durability of counter-top materials. I would normally expect to hear these questions regarding flooring or tile and generally I do. However, with counter-tops, the durability, much like hardwood flooring, is a really an aesthetic question: does it scratch or stain or crack from heat?
Essentially, nearly every material does at least one of those things we don’t like (scratch, stain, burn, crack), but not all of them can be repaired easily. This leads me to consider a different aspect of durability and sustainability – the quality of a product that allows it to be renewed. Paper composite materials such as Paperstone (http://www.seacoastgreenovations.com/products/paperstone.aspx) and Richlite (http://www.seacoastgreenovations.com/products/richlite.aspx ) can be renewed as well as any. In fact, these materials were originally designed to take abuse. Richlite originally manufactured its materials to be used as exterior cladding in the Pacific Northwest and Paperstone was conceived to create an environmentally friendly skateboard ramp in the same region. Both products stand up to physical abuse and atmospheric wear (rain, snow, sun, etc.) as well as or better than any other product. While some consider the weaker resistance to scratching a drawback of these materials I consider it a positive attribute. After all, Paperstone and Richlite are intended to share the warmth of natural products like wood. While they don’t scratch easily – normal wear and tear does not affect the surface – they will repair easily if you abuse use it. I could skateboard on the counter-top in my store for a few weeks and with an orbital sander have it back to looking new in half an hour. None of us are likely to abuse a counter that way, but should you decide to slice bread right on the counter, light scratches can often be buffed out with a scotch-brite pad.
Compared to other products, these are great advantages. Paperstone and Richlite do not stain easily; marble and poured concrete do. Stones and engineered stones require annual application of highly toxic sealers to resist stains. Paper composites do not. The point is: there are lots of aspects to every product to consider and many ways to look at those traits. But when considering durability, don’t just think of a material’s ability to withstand what we do to it; also consider how well a material can be brought back to life – because everything eventually wears down, but not everything can be new again.