Paper or Plastic?

by Matthew Bushey, July 30, 2009

As an architect in the Interiors Studio, I’m always keeping my eyes open for new materials that are truly sustainable, durable, and beautiful. (And, I should add, affordable.) One material of particular interest is what we use for the kitchen counter. It’s often the most visible feature in the room and establishes the character for the whole kitchen. At the same time, it receives a lot of abuse and must meet some pretty tough performance requirements.One new product that we really like is Paperstone. It came on the market a few years ago and quickly gained popularity as an alternative countertop and cladding material. I first tried it out in my own house, installing new kitchen counters, in part to “test-drive” the new product before offering it as a suggestion to others. Our office has since used it on other projects, including the new guest suites at the Portland Harbor Hotel.The product is green because it is made of recycled paper, held together with a natural resin binder. While conventional solid surfacing is a petrochemical-based plastic product, Paperstone is the eco-friendly alternative. Even stone, which may be a natural material, is hardly sustainable. After all, it takes a million years to make, and it is very energy-intensive to extract.

We like the look of PaperStone. It’s been compared to soapstone, and has a soft feel. Unlike stone, it is warm to the touch, and is a friendly material that invites use. It holds up perfectly fine to heat (up to 350 degrees) and water (undermount sinks are fine). After a few months of heavy use, it can get a little dull, but all it takes is a little wood oil or mineral oil (or their PaperStone Finish) and it will bring back that satin sheen.
The inventor of the product has since sold the PaperStone brand and has gone on to develop the next-generation of sustainable composite surfacing. They call it EcoTop, and they’ve added some bamboo to the recipe to make it even harder and more durable. We’ve taken a look at it in our office. The first thing we noticed was that it doesn’t have the same nice matte finish as PaperStone. However, the color line is much improved.
The jury is still out on EcoTop, but for now, I would continue to recommend PaperStone if you’re looking for an eco-friendly material for your kitchen counter.

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