10 Green Countertops

Many designers use glass tile only for accents or backsplashes because it can create a fairly irregular and non-uniform surface which requires a lot of grout. iStock/Thinkstock

There are main two options: ceramic tile and glass tile. Ceramic tile is made of clay, sand and minerals that get fired, glazed, fired again and then finished -- a very energy-intensive process, starting with mining of the minerals. So, what can you do to raise the green factor? For starters, you can use recycled materials. Additionally, look for tile that is produced locally to cut down on the transportation costs. Ceramic tile has little or no VOC emissions, so there are no worries regarding air quality. But you should investigate imported tiles because there are different guidelines in different countries, and some imported tiles have lead-based glazes.

Glass tile is often the preferred green countertop because the glass itself can be made from 100 percent recycled materials [source: U.S. Building Council's Green Home Guide]. The glass recycling process, called sintering, is much less energy-intensive than making glass tiles from new materials.

There are some downsides to tile. Like ceramic, glass tile is heavy to transport, so buy it locally if you can. With both glass and ceramic tile countertops, the tiles are also tough to remove at the end of the counter's lifecycle. And once you remove them, it's difficult to use them again.