If you like the look and performance of solid surface counters like Corian or Soapstone, then consider this greener and more affordable countertop option: paper composite. Paper, you ask? Who in their right mind would install a paper counter in a kitchen or bathroom? You might be surprised to learn that these counters are very durable, appropriate for commercial and even outdoor use. Yes, they are made with paper, but it is impregnated with a resin that creates a waterproof surface.
Paper Composite Basics
Paper composite slabs are available in a range of thicknesses and overall dimensions. This versatile material can be cut with carbine-tipped blades and routers like other solid-surface counters, and it is possible to create a variety of edge treatments, from crisp to rounded. Handmade paper composite counters can be customized with integrated drainboards, trivets and sinks for a seamless and sleek look.
Depending on the manufacturer from which you purchase your counter, color options range from those that mimic natural stone to bold and unexpected shades. Colors are somewhat limited because the resin tends to yellow or darken overtime with UV exposure. However, some manufacturers have created formulas that do not, so it is possible to find a pure white paper counter.
Paper composite counters cost anywhere from $30 to $90 per square foot (material only, labor not included). In some cases, you can install the counter yourself, though certain manufacturers recommend professional installation.
While paper composite counters can not be recycled from their final form, they are more eco-friendly than other petroleum-based solid surfaces. To ensure you are purchasing the greenest counter, look for composites that contain 100% post-industrial recycled paper that is FSC certified, and verify that the resins do not off-gas VOCs (they don't contain petroleum or formaldehyde).
Before they become a popular home countertop option, paper composites were used in marine and industrial applications as well as for skateparks. Paper composite counters can stand up to heat, chipping and staining. They can handle temperatures of up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, so don't worry about the material abutting a stove, but we don't recommend placing a pot of boiling water directly on the surface. Composites don't chip or scratch easily. If the surface does become scratched, it can be sanded, but in extreme cases, the entire surface must be refinished.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Like natural stone, paper composite shows some wear overtime, which ultimately imparts character and luster. The surface is typically sealed with mineral oil, which should be reapplied annually. Check with your manufacturer, who might recommend or provide a particular product. For regular maintenance, paper composites can be cleaned with soap and a sponge, like most other countertop materials. While composite counters don't stain easily, particular those in darker colors, they are not stain-proof. Discolorations may be removed by soaking them with vinegar and water or other non-abrasive cleaners applied with a soft brush-but again, always check with your manufacturer for recommendations.
Paper Counter Manufacturers
More green counter options...