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Vetrazzo…Environmental Award Winning Countertops

2009 June 4

About the author: Sara Jacobs recently celebrated her 10th year working at EPA Region 9. She has spent most of her years in the Drinking Water Office, but is currently on a detail to the Superfund Division, working with the Navajo EPA.

My two-bedroom flat in San Francisco was built in 1926 and I don’t think much has happened to the kitchen since. We still have no dishwasher or disposal and no flooring other than the sub floor since we ripped up the old stained and cracked vinyl. As we dream of some day being able to take on a kitchen remodel, we wonder how we could minimize the environmental impact of our project. Yet, we still need to stay on budget, maintain product quality, and still display our own unique style. Is this even possible?

We know that using recycled, locally manufactured, non-toxic materials are all good ideas, but where do we find these products? There is so much information to dig through on the web and as a busy, full-time working mother of two, I am just overwhelmed by the task. That’s why I was so excited when I read that one of the Pacific Southwest Environmental Award winners, Vetrazzo, takes glasses that are not recyclable elsewhere and turns them into beautiful countertops. (I can say beautiful because I saw the samples!)

image of hand holding pieces of colorful glass with bottles in the backgroundVetrazzo uses old glass from traffic lights, windshields, plate glass windows, dinnerware, stemware, laboratory glass, stained glass, and beverage bottles and transforms them into a superior green building material. In 2008, Vetrazzo transformed 650 tons of recycled glass into countertops, table tops, bar tops, fireplace hearths, shower surrounds and flooring.

Vetrazzo is made from glass processed directly from the recycler without melting. Since 2007, creation of 11,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide has been avoided by transforming recycled glass into Vetrazzo instead of new bottles or fiberglass. That is the same amount of energy saved by removing 2,125 passenger vehicles from the road for an entire year.

image of countertop with colorful glass pieces embedded“Being recognized by the U.S. EPA is a tremendous honor for us,” said James Sheppard, CEO and Co-Founder of Vetrazzo, LLC. “Our product creates a focal point for green building by boldly and visually demonstrating the value of recycling. When an average kitchen counter can contain as many as 1,000 bottles, the impact of using a sustainable surfacing material is undeniable. It gets people talking.”

So now I have a solution for my counter tops. Does anyone have a suggestion for flooring?

Photo credits: ©2008 Joel Puliatti for Vetrazzo

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Linda permalink
    June 5, 2009

    That’s a nice-looking countertop material, too–a definite plus. Ecologically friendly is good, but if it isn’t attractive, the market is limited.

    As for the flooring, have you considered bamboo? Since it’s a grass, the replacement time is much shorter than for trees, so it could be your answer. The samples I’ve seen compare favorably with Pergo and other wood flooring products, both in appearance and price.

  2. Sara Jacobs permalink
    June 8, 2009

    Thanks for the flooring tip, Linda. You just confirmed what I have heard from another EPAer who read my post. It seems like sharing through the blog has already expidited my research process.

  3. June 8, 2009

    That’s great! I recently read another post about them here:
    http://www.thechicecologist.com/2009/05/vetrazzo-recycled-glass-countertops/.

    I’ve also heard about another similar type material called ECO by Cosentio that has a little less ‘chunky’ look and uses a similar 75% recycled content.

    As for flooring, I agree with @Linda, bamboo is beautiful, and quite durable as well. It’s not quite as green as one would think since its made with stalks from old growths, which are in fairly limited supply.
    Depending on what you are looking for, there are some nice tile options: http://www.thechicecologist.com/2009/06/green-flooring-eco-leader-tile-by-refin-ceramiche/ or even some sort of cork flooring, both very green options.
    Good luck!

  4. Sara Jacobs permalink
    June 16, 2009

    Thanks for the additional tips JP. I checked out the link and those are some beautiful flooring options. My EPA friend did mention that to go with bamboo, you have to get the sustainably harvested variety. I’ll keep researching the options though. Thanks again for the heads up and additional ideas.

  5. top permalink
    November 4, 2009

    The countertops on the picture looks nice, but seems to me not too safe and green…

  6. lian permalink
    November 25, 2009

    Traffic lights and laboratory glass ? Is it really safe for the countertop? Who knows where it was used. It doesn’t sound like that safe for the kitchen…

  7. lian permalink
    November 26, 2009

    Would like to know more about this material processing …

  8. Susan Bailey permalink
    February 9, 2010

    where can this counter topping be purchased?

  9. February 12, 2010

    Hey Sara,

    I just found some other eco-friendly flooring alternatives- Palm! The have some really interesting textures and a unique look that I really like, plus they are FSC certified. For more info and pics take a look at:
    http://www.thechicecologist.com/2009/06/plyboo-bamboo-plywood-and-durapalm-palm-tree-sustainable-flooring/

  10. Corinne permalink
    August 1, 2011

    Two years ago, we installed a Vetrazzo countertop in our $250+K kitchen remodel. After the first 6 months the little glass pieces started chipping out of the filler especially around the edges. Now the top is stained in two places and the Vetrazzo website says this just adds to the beauty…. wrong… it just looks stained. The surface, in many places is rough where the filler is breaking down. The original company was located in California, but it has since been sold to a company in Georgia. We went back to the manufacturer and got nothing but nasty emails telling us it was our fault for not maintaining the surface properly. This is NOT the case, everything in our kitchen is BEAUTIFUL… the Vetrazzo countertop will have to be replaced. It’s definitely NOT sustainable!

  11. Naples Dentist permalink
    August 15, 2011

    Thanks, It’s interesting but also sometimes scary especially since these things are starting to show up in bathrooms in nightclubs and bars. You can’t go anywhere without some type of stimulus coming at you but it’s effective. but it is very inportant topics for us.

  12. jon permalink
    May 1, 2012

    love the look of recycled glass counters. thanks for sharing about your eco-friendly products!

  13. Kevin Gurley permalink
    November 16, 2012

    Wow how beautiful does that recycled glass countertop look…..If only the large corporations could choose to incorporate these products into all their buildings the world would be a better place.

    I just recently had my kitchen countertop redone with a soapstone countertop. It’s not recycled but more environmentally friendly than a man made countertop that uses a bunch of chemicals.

    Next I have two projects a countertop in the living room area and one for the outside I would love to incorporate these vetrazzo countertops in my next build.

  14. Heidi from GreenFlooringSupply.com permalink
    December 6, 2012

    Sara – Did you ever go through with the remodel?

    If you did choose the Vetrazzo, I would definitely go with a plain, low key floor.

    A stranded bamboo or a cork with little visual movement would be a nice compliment to a busier counter-top. (Or even a plain, stained concrete type surface…….)

    As far as sustainability between the two floors, I would say that the cork is the more sustainable of the two but the stranded bamboo is more scratch resistant. They are both pretty easy to maintain… basically just like maintaining a wood floor.

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