Written by Lilly P., Sprout Volunteer
As the temperatures continue to drop and the snow begins to pile up, it is important that we take the necessary precautions to clear our driveways and sidewalks of ice and snow. The more we learn about our reciprocal relationship with the environment, the more we must make efforts to reduce our impact on it. Even though it is winter, we can still take steps to make many of our routine activities environmentally friendly, like that of snow removal. Many common snow removal tactics are actually very harmful to not only our surroundings but also us. Consider these facts: the rock salts that are commonly used to melt ice actually contaminate our water and in turn destroy vegetation and soil; snow blowers are high effective in removing snow but they also release an abundance of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide into the air we breathe in addition to the gasoline, both of which will end up in our waterways. To prevent the poisoning of our environment, check out the list below to get a few of the latest tips that will help to keep you and your families safe:
Do it the “old-school” way: It never hurts to do things the old-fashioned way and that is exactly what is suggested here. Put away those harmful snow blowers and toxic de-icers, and instead pick up a sturdy shovel. Not only is it a good way to burn some calories, break a sweat, and build some muscle, it is also eco-friendly in that it does not produce any greenhouse gases and therefore helps to keep our water sources clean.
Shovel early and shovel often: While it might seem easiest and most convenient to wait until the snow storm is over, the best idea is to bundle up and bear that cold so that you can remove as much of the snow as possible during the storm itself. Also, before applying any de-icers, chip away or scrape the ice off of any iced over surfaces with the help of a hoe or similar tools.
An alternative to de-icing: There are more ways to rid a walkway of ice than just harmful rock salts. Eco-friendly materials like sand work comparably well to chemical salts when it comes to making an area less slippery. As for de-icing, if you have no way around it then try using Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) as it is much less damaging to the Earth’s water and soil.
What not to use as an alternative to de-icing: Although tempting and seemingly effective, products like kitty litter and ashes do not actually melt snow or ice. Rather they provide minor traction, and once the ice and snow are successfully gone they leave a great big kitty litter or ashy slush to clean up.
The truth about urea: Although considered to be a safe alternative to rock salts because it lacks chlorides and contains the fertilizing chemical of nitrogen, urea tends to be high priced and works inefficiently in temperatures below 20°F (which we Erie locals know is a frequent occurrence in our winters!)
Know what you are putting on the ground: It is important to check the labels and packaging of common de-icing products as many of them have several ingredients listed when only one of them is the main ingredient. Below is a list of common de-icing product ingredients, their cost, and their environmental concerns.
3 times more expensive than rock salt
Requires 3 times less use than rock salt
Contains no cyanide
Has a chloride impact
Less toxic and safer for the environment than calcium chloride
NaCI: Sodium Chloride (aka “rock salt”)
Approximately $5 per 50lb bag
Has a chloride impact
5 times more expensive than rock salt
Contains needless nutrients
Creates less corrosion
Calcium Magnesium Acetate
20 times more expensive than rock salt
Less toxic than most products
Approximately $3 per 50lb bag
Accumulates in streets and streams
Removal requires being swept up
When snow blowers become a necessity: For individuals who would benefit from a snow blower, consider the different kinds that there are on the market, like an electric one or hybrid instead of a gas pig. Electric snow blowers are perfect for smaller areas, whereas a hybrid snow blower can work just as effectively as the standard gasoline one but without the high levels of dangerous emissions.
Overcoming the double whammy that snow and ice presents: Scrapping off ice from your car and shoveling the driveway can be unpleasant enough to begin with, but having to brave icy and snow covered roads is just another worry that we could do without. This is why hoping on the local bus can be such a benefit. Not only does it save you from having to clear your driveway or de-ice your car, but it is also just one more way in which you can have save the environment by cutting down on the total amount of emissions released. The money that would have been spent on gas could now be spent on bus tickets and we are sure that there is bound to be some cash left over!
Know your neighbors (or at least the vegetation): Before putting any toxins on the ground, check to see if there are plants within a five or ten foot radius of the area being de-iced. If you see or know of a plant within this area that is salt-sensitive, then you may want to consider using Calcium Magnesium Acetate or sand as a safe alternative to common de-icing products that have chlorides in them. If you are unsure of whether the plants are salt-sensitive or could really benefit from using a salt-containing product, then consider trying to limit the amount that you are using. To help you identify a plant, listed below are common landscaping areas and the species they contain that are at risk from salting.
Deciduous trees: Tulip polar, Green ash, Hickory, Red maple, and Sugar maple
Conifers: Balsam fir, White pine, Hemlock, and Norway spruce
Shrubs: Dogwood, Redbud, Hawthorn, Rose, Spirea
Grasses: Kentucky bluegrass, Red fescue