The colorful charm of recycled glass countertops may be just what you’re looking for to add a bit of spice to your kitchen design with an eco-friendly twist.
Offering infinite possibilities, recycled glass countertops feature a mosaic of glass pieces from many sources and of various shapes, sizes, and colors set in a resin or cement-based material to create a custom look.
Like all other types of kitchen countertops there are pros and cons, costs, and maintenance to consider before deciding if recycled glass is the right fit for your project. I’ll walk you through everything you want to know in the detailed review below.
Recycled glass countertops are made by combing crushed glass chips into a binding resin or cement-based matrix. The process is similar to how quartz countertops are made.
The glass is obtained from a variety of sources including industrial by-products and post-consumer recycling programs for things like wine and beer bottles, windshields, stained glass windows. Porcelain and seashells are also used.
The exact ratio of glass to binder varies by manufacturer but in general, the mix is around 80% glass to 20% binder. And some are 100% recycled glass where other companies use a percentage of new glass along with the recycled glass.
Recycled glass countertops were invented in 1996 by Don McPherson, a materials scientist, and Ph.D. student. He combined recycled glass within a cement binder to come up with a sustainable and refined countertop.
McPherson began producing his new type of countertop under the name Counter Production. In 2006 new investors jumped in, secured a patent, and renamed the product and company “Vetrazzo”.
Vetrazzo is still a leading producer but many other companies have entered the market with most manufacturing in the United States.
Types of Recycled Glass Countertops
Recycled glass countertops (also called crushed glass countertops) are of two types. Most are made with chips of glass arranged terrazzo-style in a binder, but recycled glass can also be used to make solid glass surfaces.
So, you don’t have all the scattered chips of glass in a matrix with this type.
Homogenous glass surfaces can be of various colors, with custom textures and patterns created in the glass or backlights added to make them glow.
This style is less common with a completely different look than the terrazzo style.
Terrazzo style uses glass chips and crushed glass as a by-product or post-industrial waste from manufacturing and building demolition or post-consumer waste like wine and beer bottles.
Terrazzo style can be grouped into two categories based on the kind of binders (cement or resin) used to form the countertops.
Cement vs. Resin Binders
The glass chips used to make recycled glass countertops are embedded in one of two types of binders (cement or resin) which is then formed into the countertop slab.
The type of binding matrix used varies by brand with each having certain advantages and drawbacks.
These countertops use a cementitious matrix like Portland cement to bind the crushed glass chips together. The resulting surface shares all the same general performance properties of concrete countertops.
Cement-based recycled glass countertops are porous and require periodic application of a sealer to guard against stains and protect from acidic substances that may etch the surface like vinegar, coffee, wine, or fruit juice.
Also, many common cleaners can etch and cement is more prone to scratches than granite or resin surfaces for instance.
Advantages of cement binders over resin:
Cement can be recycled, where resins cannot
Cement is very common material, paving the possibility for more widespread recycling in the future
Cement binder is more cost-effective
Cement based binders are also heat resistant, but the sealers may not be
These counters use a synthetic resin matrix as binder very similar to quartz countertops (which bind quartz in a resin).
Resin-based countertops are non-porous, stain and scratch-resistant, but cannot take prolonged heat from hot pans and some chemicals can discolor or bleach the resin.
Advantages of resin binders over cement:
Resin-based countertops are non-porous and do not stain
Do not require sealing
Acids do not etch
The binder can be made from renewable resources like corn
Resin countertops are more resistant to penetration from microbes, making them easier to disinfect if needed
Resin allows a very small amount of movement without cracking, unlike cement.
Naturally, every product has its positive attributes and its own share of drawbacks. Recycled glass counters are no different.
Check out the good and the bad below and later on we’ll compare recycled crushed glass counters to other popular surfaces.
Pros of Crushed Glass Countertops:
Reusing tons of refuse glass keeps it out of landfills and definitely adds more green power to your home.
Appealing to the Eye
The depth and translucence of the glass really draws the eye providing captivating visual interest.
Provides Unique Style Option
Any color is possible. Pigments in any ratio can be added during manufacturing to mix any color imaginable just like creating a paint color.
Patterns are unique with the glass chips arranged as you desire.
The specific glass type and mixture can be customized. Some manufacturers allow you to choose the makeup of the glass chips to be used for the countertop. You can specify the colors, mix them up or combine them with a coordinating matrix binder to complement your kitchen design.
The diffusion of light by the glass also help create a unique look that you simply will not get from any other materials.
Cleaning recycled glass is as easy as it gets. Hot water or a pH neutral cleaner will get the job done every time. Using soap is fine, but will result in a dull film with repeated use. Some may need resealing once every few years, depending on the type or brand of the countertop.
Cons of Crushed Glass Counters:
Not the Cheapest Choice
Recycled glass counters are similarly priced to granite but more on the high-end, so they could not really be called a budget choice. They will last half a century or more though, so it should be a one-time only investment.
Potential for Glass Chips to Get Knocked Loose
It is fairly common for pieces of glass to get knocked out, but it can be repaired. That's also a factor to consider when choosing an edge treatment. Some manufacturers don’t recommend using edge styles that result in thinner cross-sections (like an Ogee) because it raises the risk of glass chips getting knocked loose.
Stains, Sealing, Etch Marks, and Bleaching
Cement-based products require sealing to prevent stains from foods and drinks.
Cement-based surfaces will etch from acidic foods and chemicals.
Resin-based surfaces do not require sealing and are very resistant to food stains, but certain cleaners and chemicals will caused bleached-out discoloration. Such damage is often permanent.
Although recycled glass countertops are gaining popularity, at the moment you cannot simply walk into your local home improvement store and order them.
Sourcing recycled glass to use in your remodeling project may be harder than if you were opting for a more commonly used countertop material but most people find that in the end, the extra effort was well worth it.
However, several companies manufacture recycled glass surfaces and will help you through the process of purchasing and installation.
How to Clean Recycled Glass Countertops
Recycled glass countertops could not be called “low-maintenance” but once you understand the characteristics of this surface and the particular requirements to avoid damage, cleaning is simple enough.
This countertop material is extremely durable but not indestructible.
Food stains are possible from foods and drinks on cement-based surfaces creating dark spots where the substance has absorbed into the countertop.
Acids can etch the cement-based surfaces leaving dull or chalky spots from corrosion. It’s like a chemical burn of the surface just like marble etching.
Bleached-out stains can happen from the use of certain cleaners (like oven cleaners, solvents, bleach, and others) that will permanently discolor resin-based countertops.
Also, resin-based surfaces will fade in the sun from UV light (like quartz countertops) so cannot be used as outdoor kitchen countertops.
Scratches are fairly rare, but can occur and dropping heavy cans or other objects can cause chips and cracks.
Heat-resistance for short periods is decent however, it's wise to take note that leaving hot pans on recycled glass can permanently scorch the surface.
Tips for Protecting and Cleaning Recycled Glass Countertops
Use hot water or a pH neutral cleaner (those for granite, marble, and quartz work best) and a soft cloth for quick clean ups.
Do not use a window or glass cleaner as most contain ammonia which can etch and dull the surface. It won’t harm the glass, of course, but the binder can be damaged.
Wipe up ordinary spills as soon as they occur. This will lessen the chance that the countertop will be damaged by acidic foods and drinks.
Embedded food stains (dark spots) can often be removed by using a poultice.
Etch marks may be removed in some cases with a polishing powder.
Use Cutting Boards and Trays
To avoid acid etching and stains, use cutting boards for food prep, trivets for pots and pans, trays under coffee makers, soap dispensers or other bottles with liquids stored on the surface, and coasters for drinks.
Recycled glass counters (cement-based) need to be re-sealed once every year or two. Although glass does not absorb stains, the concrete matrix is porous.
Apply a concrete sealer or a sealer provided by your countertop manufacturer following the manufacturer's directions.
Applying Wax or Stone Polish
A wax designed for cement or a polish for stone surfaces will give a high shine on your recycled glass countertop. It helps prevent stains from getting into the surface of your countertop.
Follow the directions for applying the wax, and then buff it with a soft cloth until you get a glossy shine.
Costs: Are Recycled Glass Countertops Expensive?
Yes, prices are on the high-end compared to other countertop materials.
Recycled glass countertop costs vs. granite or quartz are a bit more expensive on average, but still in the same range.
Granite costs from $45 - $200 per square foot, but most granite countertops installed will be in the $55 - $75 psf range.
Recycled glass countertops costs are higher averaging around $75 - $95 psf but can go as high as $150 per square foot.
Expect to pay around $75-$150 psf.
This price range is on a par with mid to high-end granites, quartz, soapstone, and similar materials.
Even though granite can be just as expensive (if not more so in some cases) many granite colors can be installed for a lot less (around $45 - $65 psf).
The same can be said when comparing recycled glass countertop prices to quartz. On average, quartz countertops will be cheaper or at least you have many options to purchase quartz at a cheaper price.
Shopping around different manufacturers can save you money though, but you may have an added cost to pay for shipping the countertop from the manufacturer.
Comparison with Other Countertop Materials
Your countertop is usually the first thing that draws people’s attention in a kitchen so you want a style that suits you but also it needs to stand up to a ton of abuse.
How does recycled glass compare overall to other countertop materials such as granite, quartz, Corian, and marble?
Image Source: Vetrazzo
Study the key characteristics of each countertop material listed below and you’ll learn the differences and similarities. Each has strengths and weaknesses which may make one surface more or less appealing for your kitchen or bathroom countertop.
Recycled Glass Countertops Main Characteristics
Made up of old glass bottles, windows, light bulbs, and other recycled products.
The glass is crushed, melted, re-colored and fused together again with a resin or cement matrix to form a solid countertop.
Adequately resistant to scratches, stains, and heat damage, but it is not as hard or durable as granite.
Cement-based recycled glass countertop products require sealing on a semi-regular basis to prevent staining (like granite and marble). Resin-based versions do not need sealing and are very stain-resistant (like quartz and Corian).
Both resin and cement-based counters can be discolored by some cleaners and chemicals (which is also true of quartz countertops).
Acids can etch (corrode) the surface of recycled glass like marble.
It can chip or glass pieces may come loose (granite and quartz can pit too).
Available in a wide range of colors, with some manufacturers allowing individual selection of color for a custom countertop.
Patterns are limited to terrazzo-style but with customizable variations in size, color, and the mix of glass pieces which is a unique advantage of this surface.
Maintenance required varies by manufacturer. Products such as Eco, need little care, products such as IceStone require the same maintenance as marble (i.e. sealing and guarding against etching).
Recycled Glass Countertops vs. Granite:
Granite and recycled glass countertops are quite different in composition, looks, and performance.
Granite is a naturally occurring igneous rock made up primarily of feldspar, mica, and quartz.
No two slabs look exactly the same with thousands of colors and patterns. This is essentially true for recycled glass as well. Each counter is a unique design.
Variation can range from mild to extreme with natural pits, fissures, and marks occasionally present in the stone as well. Not an issue for glass.
Cleaning granite is never a difficult task but it should be cleaned with pH neutral stone cleaners.
Highly resistant to scratches and heat, although sealing is often needed to protect against staining.
Acidic foods will not damage the granite finish.
Granite can pit and chip. Recycled glass can as well.
Costs vs. granite are in a similar range, but on average you’ll pay a bit more for a recycled glass countertop than for granite.
Recycled Glass Countertops vs. Quartz
Recycled glass and quartz countertops are very similar in how they are made, performance, colors, and some patterns.
Quartz countertops are manufactured in the same basic manner combining crushed quartz and a resin.
Many varied colors and patterns are available. Possible colors are similar to glass but with a greater choice of patterns.
Non-porous and does not stain in the traditional sense, but certain chemicals can discolor the resin causing a bleached-out stain in quartz countertops. Recycled glass can both stain (cement-based) and be discolored by chemicals (resin and cement).
Quartz is highly-resistant to scratches and is not etched by acids.
Quartz can take heat for a short period but damage can occur with prolonged exposure much the same as recycled glass countertops. Neither can tolerate hot pans as well as granite.
Can pit and chip like granite.
Recycled Glass vs. Corian
Corian solid surface is another man-made countertop material with some unique advantages but also drawbacks compared to recycled glass.
Corian colors emphasize earth tones of white, beige, gray and black, although some blues, greens, and red are available. Patterns are speckled or with soft mottling that can resemble natural stone. Overall the look is more sedate than that of recycled glass countertops.
Seams are virtually invisible or can be eliminated in some cases.
Sinks, drainboards, and inlays can be molded into the surface. Corian can be formed into any shape.
Corian countertops are rather easily scratched, can be dented, and will scorch from hot pans.
Sealing is not required with good stain-resistance. Some cleaners and chemicals can discolor the surface like with quartz and recycled glass. Stains and scratches can usually be removed simply by sanding.
Corian is less expensive vs. granite, marble, quartz, and recycled glass countertops.
Recycled Glass Countertops vs. Marble
Recycled glass and marble countertops do not look at all the same, but they do have similar performance characteristics.
Marble takes heat well and generally will not be damaged by hot pans.
Marble can be scratched rather easily. Recycled glass is possibly a bit more scratch-resistant than marble but not nearly as tough as granite or quartz.
Although marble can stain, it is actually a dense material and stains are not as common as on granite. Still, sealing marble is often the best practice especially on a honed finish which is more porous than a polished finish.
Acidic foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, and vinegar will etch marble the same as recycled glass. And many cleaners will etch marble.
The cost to install marble is in the same range as recycled glass.
Where to Buy Recycled Glass Countertops
Recycled glass countertops are not as easily found and purchased as granite, marble or quartz countertops. These countertops are often made-to-order and not generally available as slabs at your local stone yard or from big box stores like Lowes or Home Depot.
However, that may change in the near future.
For now, you’ll likely need to purchase directly from the manufacturer, although some do use local distributors.
Browse the manufacturer’s websites for specific information about how to purchase recycled glass countertops and have them installed by a local fabricator.
Trend Glass - Limited collection with more subdued colors and patterns
Geos - Vibrant color collection with some neutrals
The process to install recycled glass countertops is a bit different than installing granite or marble where the granite fabricator gets the slab locally, cuts it to size, brings it to your house, and installs it.
With recycled glass the countertops are usually made to measurements you provide to the manufacturer and then the finished countertop is shipped to your home (which is an added expense). You need to find a local fabricator or installer to actually install the counters in your home.
Although, some manufacturers do have slabs available via a network of distributors with installers you can choose from.
Tips for Installation:
Precise measurement is needed
Since recycled glass countertops are an entirely manufactured material, they may be created in any shape or thickness desired.
Crushed glass countertops are often made to the precise specifications you give the manufacturer, therefore, accurate measurement of the counter installation area is essential. This may also be done by a local fabricator.
Handle with Care
Cutting crushed glass countertops is challenging and requires special saws and extra care. The countertop edges must also be polished if cut. If manufactured with a concrete matrix, then it must be sealed.
Though recycled glass is extremely durable and strong once in place, if it is dropped during installation it can crack or chip.
Not a DIY Project
DIY recycled glass countertop installation is not recommended. The slabs can be difficult and delicate to handle and mistakes may be expensive or impossible to remedy.
The appearance, functionality and useful life of the recycled glass countertop may be compromised by poor installation.
A successful recycled glass countertop installation requires special materials, tools, fabrication, and installation techniques. Ultimately, it calls for the work of skilled trade contractors.
Recycled glass countertops are good for the environment because they keep waste glass out of landfills and the cement-based countertops themselves can be recycled.
These kitchen countertops offer a unique look and style that can be customized with many appealing visual characteristics.
Recycled glass surfaces are reasonably durable and strong, but not indestructible and not the most carefree kitchen countertop with particular maintenance requirements to prevent stains and other damage.
Like all other surfaces, recycled glass countertops are not without faults but their distinctive properties and design characteristics make this countertop material a perfect choice for many homeowners.