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Engineered Stone Banned? Don’t Worry, Here Are Your Best Alternatives! 

5 January 2024

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Australia has become the first country to announce a ban on engineered stone.  

Engineered stone has long been a popular choice for kitchen and bathroom benchtops. It’s sleek, durable, non-porous, uniform and relatively affordable. 

However, as July is approaching, the chances you will find them in the market are slim to none. 

Why, you ask? 

Most people don’t realise that this popular material comes with a hidden health risk: silica dust. So, 

What is engineered stone?

An engineered stone is a composite material, meaning it’s made by combining different materials to create a new one. Usually, around 90% of the mix is made up of crushed stone, most commonly quartz, the other 10% are stones like granite, marble, or recycled materials. 

Bidding goodbye to engineered stone

This ban does not come out of nowhere. Back in 2015, the alarm bells first rang when an Aussie worker developed silicosis after years of working with engineered stone. It was just one case, but fast-forward a few years, and more diagnoses piled up, with almost 700 workers accepting compensation claims for Silicosis.  

A recent study by Lung Foundation Australia revealed alarmingly high levels of Respirable Crystalline Silica (RCS) exposure among workers, with over 584,000 currently at risk. This exposure could lead to a staggering 83,090 to 103,860 cases of silicosis and 10,390 lung cancers. 

Engineered stone may have reigned supreme for its sleek looks and affordability for a long time, but the hidden health risk makes it a material of the past. 

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Silicosis and its Relation to Engineered Stone

The once-beloved engineered stone is getting banned because of a tiny, silent killer: silica dust. 

You might have thought that the powdery white thing you see swirling around during cutting is just dust. But it is the grim reaper of the lungs, lurking behind every polished quartz panel. Breathing in this stuff can lead to silicosis, an irreversible lung disease that’s as chilling as it sounds. 

Safe Work Australia investigated why there has been an increase in silicosis and found that engineered stone workers were getting silicosis at alarming rates. This is because the dust, containing up to 95% crystalline silica dust, is created when the engineered stone is cut, drilled into, or ground. 

Alternatives to Engineered Stone

So, what now? This ban isn’t a dead end but an open door to a whole new world of stunning and, most importantly, safe alternatives. Think shining porcelain, warm timber, or even eco-friendly and chic recycled tiles. Your countertop can still be a masterpiece, minus the hidden health risks. Here are the best alternatives to engineered stone: 

Natural Stone

For those who crave timeless elegance and undeniable character, natural stone countertops are for you. You can have the ageless elegance of granite, marble, or quartzite in your home. Each slab whispers a unique story of ancient formations, boasting patterns and textures that no brush or machine can imitate. While requiring a touch more care, natural stone adds a touch of luxury and enduring grandeur to your space. 

Porcelain

For those who love cooking porcelain benchtops are the ones for you. Their heat and scratch resistance stand up to even the most vigorous cooking sessions, while their non-porous surface keeps germs at bay, making them ideal for hygiene-conscious chefs. Porcelain is very versatile, from sleek, minimalist whites to rustic terracotta hues; porcelain offers a symphony of colours and textures to match any design for you. 

Timber

Warm up your space with the natural charm of wood. If you love to add a touch of nature to your space, timber is the best alternative for you. Butcher block conjures up rustic kitchens, while sleek walnut or oak veneers elevate any space to modern chic. This alternative adds a rustic elegance and coziness to your space be it a small breakfast nook or the dining table. 

Tiles

Want different designs for benchtops? Then, the tiles are for you. Tile countertops offer endless possibilities for customisation, allowing you to create a truly unique masterpiece that reflects your personality. Whether you choose a playful patchwork of colours or a sleek, monochromatic grid, your countertop becomes a canvas for your creativity. You need to prepare for its maintenance, but the visual impact is undeniable. 

Laminate

If you are on a budget but still want to make your benchtops look elegant, laminates are for you. They have come a long way from the 70s, and modern laminates offer stunningly realistic stone and wood textures. Easy to clean and maintain, they’re perfect for busy households. Laminate proves that stunning design doesn’t have to break the bank, offering a stylish and affordable option for any space. 

Concrete

Want a raw, minimalistic aesthetic for your kitchen? Concrete gives just that. Its polished finish adds a touch of urban edge, while its unparalleled durability makes it ideal for high-traffic areas like family kitchens. With concrete the customization options are endless, and they are exceptionally strong. Concrete offers a unique and edgy alternative, perfect for those who crave a bold statement in their space. 

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Solid Surface

Crave sleek curves and seamless flow? A solid surface is the alternative for you. No visible seams, just smooth expanses ready for customisation. Sculpt sinks and integrate backsplashes – the possibilities are endless. Plus, it’s stain and scratch-resistant, making it a low-maintenance dream come true. Solid surfaces also feel inviting and add just the right amount of warmth to your space. 

Terrazzo Slabs

Want to bring vibrancy and sustainability to your space? If yes, terrazzo slabs are the ones for you. Recycled glass and stone chips create a playful mosaic in your countertops. It’s durable, easy to clean, and eco-friendly, adding a touch of whimsy and responsibility to any room. It adds a playful personality to your space and is practical for busy kitchens. 

Do you need to get rid of your engineered stone benchtops?

If you already have installed engineered stones in your homes, you don’t need to remove them. This only applies to future projects. 

However, a word of caution for those considering renovations or changes. While your beautiful countertop poses no risk in its current state, any alterations require careful handling.  

In an interview with ABC News, occupational hygienist Kate Cole reminds us, “The problem arises when you need to remove or work on it.” 

If you are considering renovations in your home and want to remove your engineered stone, here are some of the tips you should be familiar with:  

  1. When removing the engineered stone benchtop, you should try to remove it in one piece to minimise dust exposure. 
  2. Hire a qualified stonemason experienced in working with engineered stone as tehy know what to do best.
  3. Choose a stonemason who uses “wet cutting” techniques. This significantly reduces the amount of harmful silica dust released during cutting and sawing. 
  4. Ensure they use sophisticated equipment to capture any dust or “slurry” created during the process. This prevents the dust from spreading within your home. 
  5. Close off the work area from the rest of your home to minimise dust spread. 

 

While the ban on engineered stone may feel like a sudden shift, it’s a necessary step towards protecting workers and creating healthier spaces. This isn’t an end for your dream benchtops but a thrilling new beginning for you to explore more alternatives.  

Embrace the dust-free future in your home! It’s time to explore a myriad of countertop options that put your health first, all while letting your designs for your homes take flight. Remember, a beautiful space shouldn’t come at the cost of your lungs! 

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