If you've ever shopped for a cutting board, you'll know it can be confusing, especially when trying to be environmentally conscious. The bottom line is to stay with untreated, natural materials as much as possible when buying an eco-friendly cutting board. Manufactured materials, like plastic we've learned, are incredibly harmful to the environment during and well beyond the production phase. Below are a few helpful tips when trying to decide which cutting board is right for you.
What to look for when buying an eco-friendly cutting board
The key things to pay attention to when choosing a cutting board:
- sustainability - is it made with environmentally friendly material?
- knife friendly - will the cutting board dull my knife over time?
- durability - will it last without special care or maintenance?
- dishwasher safe - can it be sanitized in a dishwasher or need washing by hand?
- design - will it fit in your cabinet, counter, or in a drawer?
- budget - does it fall into your budget if you need more than one?
3 Sustainable materials to consider when buying a cutting board
The most popular materials for cutting boards are glass, wood, bamboo, wood fiber composite, plastic, thin, flexible plastic, and natural rubber. We are going to immediately rule out the ones that are least kind to your knives and the environment: glass - although it looks nice, it is most damaging to blades; plastic - both hard or thin/flexible plastic has the advantage to be cleaned in the dishwasher, but they aren't made with eco-friendly material and are dulling to knives; wood fiber composite - dulling to knives and may contain toxic chemicals.
The three environmentally friendly materials that are top picks for cutting boards are:
Bamboo is a sustainable choice for cutting boards
Bamboo cutting boards have become the eco-friendly answer of the new century. They look super cool and are lightweight but strong. Bamboo boards are tight-grained and dense, so they are easy to clean.
A hard grass, it’s a sustainable, renewable resource that needs no chemicals to thrive or be harvested. And, because bamboo boards absorb less liquid than wooden boards, many believe they are at least as sanitary as wooden boards.
What makes Moso bamboo different from other bamboo species?
- Moso bamboo outperforms all other bamboos and hardwood varieties in carbon dioxide absorption and oxygen production.
- Annual harvest of mature stems does not harm the mother plant, making it an endless resource.
- Moso is the most rapidly growing plant on the planet. It grows at an amazing speed of about 1 meter daily, assuring rapid regeneration.
The drawback? Bamboo is roughly 15 percent harder than traditional maple, which means it’s harder on your knives. Also, the small grooves may ever-so-slightly catch your knife, interrupting a smooth cutting action.
Can Bamboo be put in the Dishwasher?
There are a variety of designs and sizes to choose from to fit any budget, now that bamboo cutting boards have become very popular. They do have to be cleaned by hand, though. High heat and excessive water exposure in a dishwasher will damage them, so wash them by hand with soapy water.
Wood Cutting Boards are kind to your Knife and the Environment
Wood is a renewable resource, although not nearly as easily renewable as bamboo. And many boards are actually made from waste wood (i.e., leftovers at the mill or carpentry that would have been otherwise thrown away). What’s more, a heavy softwood board is kind to knives and will keep them sharper longer. And finally, a good maple or beech cutting board is somewhat self-healing, and won’t scar as easily.
The Best Wood Choices for Cutting Boards
- Maple: Considered the best hardwood for cutting boards. Maple is resilient, and its tiny pores block moisture, bacteria, and stains. But, you must condition it every month or two.
- Walnut: Its softer texture protects your knife blade even better than maple. Oil walnut boards every month or two.
- Beech: Offers excellent scratch resistance, second to maple. Demands oil each month.
- Teak: A tropical hardwood, it retains oil well, which prevents warping and needs less upkeep. About every 3-6 months. But, its high silica content dulls knives faster than other hardwood.
What is the difference between End-grain and Edge-grain?
End-grain boards are with the end of the 2 X 4—where the grain is open, like a sawed-off tree trunk—for the top of your board. Of the three types, this is the easiest to identify because of its checkerboard pattern. End-grain cutting boards have the best antibacterial properties. Plus, it’s the most knife-friendly cutting board type – thanks to its checkerboard pattern of timber ends. End grain is usually the most expensive because it’s the most labor-intensive to make. But it’s also the kindest to your knives and will wear the longest.
Edge-grain cutting boards have a simpler construction than end-grain – parallel wooden boards fused long ways. As a result, these tend to be the more affordable option. The hidden grains need less upkeep than the end-grains since the structure repels moisture. But, the rigid surface will dull blades easier. Also, edge-grain boards won’t self-heal as effectively, which means a shorter lifespan.
How do I properly care for a wood cutting board?
You do have to regularly oil your board with food-grade mineral oil to protect it from staining or warping, and please don’t put it in the dishwasher. A well-cared-for wood board will last you for years and will be worth the sometimes bigger price tag.
Rubber is an affordable and eco-friendly cutting board
Most of us aren't familiar with rubber cutting boards. But, they are a great option if you choose to steer away from plastic but want something affordable and eco-friendly.
Natural rubber is eco-friendly in its life cycle – from harvesting to production. It has some properties that make it favorable. According to ThinkingSustainably.com, these include:
- Naturally-sourced. Latex collected from rubber trees makes natural rubber products. The Para tree is grown through sustainable methods. It will help in balancing the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
- Sustainable. The tree, which is the source, features a renewable feature. Should the tree deteriorate in producing latex, then you can replant without any hassle.
- Non-toxic. Natural rubber comes from a natural source. The products contain no traces of petroleum, chemicals, and heavy metals that can be dangerous to human health.
- Biodegradable. Many companies derive natural rubber from natural/inorganic materials, and its products become biodegradable. It will decompose into essential elements, primarily through weathering, without causing environmental damage.
How durable are rubber cutting boards?
Rubber may not be as pretty as wood cutting boards but it has perks to make up for both those downfalls.
Rubber is non-porous which means it won’t let bacteria in and it won’t split, crack or peel. This is safer for you and your knives. The board won’t absorb liquids, making it more resistant to stains and smells. It's also really easy to maintain. Rubber makes for a low-maintenance, non-toxic, and non-plastic cutting board material.
TMF Top Suggestions for Cutting Boards
Greener Chef Organic Bamboo Cutting Board. It is one of the best bamboo cutting boards in a two-tone design for convenient chopping. This heavy-duty original bamboo chopping board is also durable, environmental-friendly, and free of harmful chemicals.
John Boos Block Classic Reversible Maple Wood End-Grain Chopping Block is made in the USA by skilled craftspeople using time honored techniques since 1887. Butcher block is made from sustainably sourced, hand-selected Northern Hard Rock Maple Wood. It features end grain construction.
Notrax - Sani-Tuff Premium Rubber Cutting Board, Professional Grade uses only 100% natural, high-density rubber – free from synthetics, dyes, and adhesives. Plus, it's NSF-certified for safety.
Check out our TMF's Resources for Knives other eco-friendly product suggestions for your kitchen!