As winter approaches, plan less-toxic measures against snow and ice

If you feel inclined to stock up on sodium chloride to apply to your sidewalk, here are some thoughts first:

Salt is harsh on pet’s feet, car undercarriages, footwear, wood floors… to say nothing of plants and water life. See also “The problem with Salt” on our site.

Salt spread on a dry surface, as often happens, is kicked up by passing cars, thus counterproductively pushing the salt to the edges of the driving surface and wafting chemicals into the air breathed by passersby and residents, with potential adverse health impacts.

Here are some ideas from Minnesota (where they know something about winter!) for reducing, but unfortunately not eliminating, your use of salt, in 4 earth-friendly tips to clean up your icy sidewalk” by Cody Nelson, MPR News, January 11, 2018:

The salt we’re so inclined to dump on roads and sidewalks after winter storms is a growing threat to Minnesota’s lakes and streams.

Chloride — the mineral in salt that’s toxic to fish, birds and other aquatic life — is now considered an impairment in 50 bodies of water across the state. Scientists only expect that number to rise.

While large-scale salt application is the biggest culprit, there are some things individuals can do to minimize their impact:

1) Break out the shovel. If you’re going to use salt, first clear off as much snow and ice as you can with a shovel or scraper. Manual removal is more effective, and it’s cheaper.

2) Don’t dump. A little salt goes a long way. Spread it out. According to Clean Water Minnesota, “a 12-ounce coffee cup of salt is enough to cover 10 sidewalk squares or a 20-foot driveway.”

3) Check the temperature. If it’s below 15 degrees, it’s too cold for salt to effectively melt ice. Consider using sand instead. It won’t melt the ice, but it will increase traction. Plus, sand is easier on your pet’s paws.

4) Sweep up excess salt. It’ll end up as runoff into waterways or the soil. Clean Water Minnesota recommends sweeping up whatever salt is left sitting on the pavement so you can reuse it after the next storm.

To the left: pile of taxpayer-financed road salt in a West Chester alley, 2/21/21, prior to being swept up and donated to a neighboring landscaper for (sparing) use. This is a big pile; the trowel to the right of the bag gives the scale.

Some other ideas:

• Mix sand with salt. Sand will give traction that salt doesn’t.

• Experiment with mixing in other substances like (unused) kitty litter or fireplace wood ashes.
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• And about sweeping up excess salt, as shown above: keep an eye on streets and alleys!

• West Goshen municipality adds de-sugared beet molasses to reduce salt use and also the temperature at which salt can melt ice.

• For other alternatives, search the internet for “What melts snow besides salt” and check out results such as this article and this commercial product.

See also, from Minnesota: “‘Dead fish or dead people?’ The challenges of curbing road salt use” and “Shingle Creek: A cautionary tale for Minnesota’s water.”

If you wish to share your observations or good ideas, please comment here or contact us.

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