If you’ve got an apartment remodel on the books, here are some tips for how you can replace wood (or granite or marble) with cheaper and/or more sustainable materials.
Note: wood IS a renewable material, but it’s increasingly costly, and often isn’t harvested sustainably. If you care about how forests are managed (and you should, because they’ll be around longer than we will!) look for the FSC, or Forest Sustainability Council, label. That also goes for paper products.
Recycle, Reuse, Remodel
Recycled glass comes in two forms: slab or tile. The conventional wisdom says recycled glass is good for the environment, as it keeps glass out of landfills and prevents the need to make it anew. However, there are some questions about the highly polluting nature of binding the glass together into slab. It’s also not the cheapest option. What glass does have going for it, however, includes attractiveness, durability, temperature resistance (both hot and cold), uniqueness, and the fact that it’s easily cleaned.
Melting and reshaping aluminum requires much less energy than manufacturing it anew. It’s also pricey, but usually less so than glass. The downsides? It scratches more easily than stainless steel, and requires professional installation.
Recycled paper composite
Yep, paper. It’s actually durable, and resembles concrete, having been compacted with high pressure, and bound with a resin that, wonder of wonders, doesn’t off-gas. If you’re super concerned with stains, paper counters might not work for you, but otherwise they have very few downsides, with one exception: they require regular re-sealing.
If you like the look of wood but are worried about sourcing it, bamboo might be a good option for you. You still need to ask questions about individual products though; some bamboo harvests have led to forest destruction, and it’s not unusual for the binder to contain formaldehyde. It’s also very far from local. That said, bamboo can grow without pesticides or herbicides, grows very quickly, and is quite durable.
Salvaged materials are by far the “greenest” remodeling option, as they don’t go through energy intensive processing. Look up a salvage place, either with a search engine or through the Building Materials Reuse Association or Habitat for Humanity for Humanity’s Restore location listings. See if you can eliminate the middle man and search Craigslist.
If you’d like to know where to buy some of these products, check out suggestions from The Daily Green.