Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Concrete, Green or Not?

Concrete countertops are being plugged as an eco-friendly option, many even contain recycled glass and are quite beautiful but are they as green as they seem? Concrete is made from cement, most cement is a type called Portland cement.

The manufacturing of cement requires a lot of energy, cement plants use several forms of energy, like coal, some use natural gas, and some also burn things like hazardous waste and tires. Cement plants are the 3rd largest emitter of mercury emissions. Mercury isn't the only thing coming out of the stacks at cement plants, they also give off things like sulfur dioxide, dioxins, and more.

I live just over two miles away from a cement plant that burns tires and other toxic things. They are classified as a high priority violator of the Clean Air Act by the EPA. Yet with many things made of concrete being marketed as green and the plant itself telling everyone it's green, it's an issue that is being overlooked. This cement plant even says it's recycling tires when it burns them for fuel and they say they are committed to environmental issues, they chair the local green committee and are sponsoring a green expo. All while polluting our air at an alarming rate.

Many people think I want to shut down the cement plant near me but that's not the case. If the one by me shut down they would have to make more cement somewhere else to meet demand and would just end up polluting another town. Cement can be made in a greener way but many of the cement companies don't want to invest in newer technology or even follow current laws as it cuts into profits. The way the law is now the fines often are smaller than what the company makes from breaking the law.

This issue is why when deciding if a product is eco-friendly or not, we must look at the manufacturing as well as the finished product. No product is perfect but we have to try and make informed choices. If you want to see how close you are to a cement plant check out Earthjustice's interactive cement kiln map.


Holly said...

Interesting. I've wondered about these countertops. A while ago we were considering redoing our 1950s kitchen. I wanted to do it as environmentally friendly as possible. But every time I looked deeper into the real environmental impact of everything that was supposed to be "good" there was always something lurking with suspiscion. Even recycled glass countertops. We still haven't changed anything.
Thanks for sharing this info.

Lisa Sharp said...

Holly: Yes everything has an impact so you just have to find what you like that has the least. Be sure it will last a long time because then you don't have to do this again soon haha, plus that is eco-friendly as well. :)

Rosa said...

Yes! We chose Paperstone, as the best of all the things we looked at, but there's no perfect choice - the resins they use, even though they're not petrochemicals, include toxins, and the water & energy costs of production are higher than I would like.

Eco Yogini said...

FANTASTIC post! So true that we need to consider the manufactoring aspect.
It does get overwhelming, I agree w Holly, but that doesn't mean that alternatives where the manufactoring is better aren't out there :)

Being informed is best!

Lisa Sharp said...

Rosa: I've looked at Paperstone and it does look like one of the better options out there. Like you said, not perfect but at least better.

Eco Yogini: Thanks, living next to a factory will make you think more about manufacturing. Though it's amazing how well these companies can trick people. Many in my town believe that it's just steam coming from the stack, they don't know that no it's not JUST steam and what you can't see is the most harmful part.

investment in farmland said...

I still don't get how a cement plant that uses massive amounts of electricity could even dare call itself green. It seems like picking a green eco-car is something that gives you a clear choice, but probably harder to do for kitchen countertops!

Alicia@ ec friendly homemaking said...

This is a great post. I also had been wondering about the counter tops!

Lisa Sharp said...

Investment in farmland: Yeah it's hard to know everything that goes into something like countertops and there is likely no perfect answer but I know the cement ones have a lot of issues. I would also worry about the fly ash that is added to cement. That stuff is full of heavy metals.

Alicia: They are beautiful but sadly town's like mine are polluted by one of the main ingredients. :(


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