Ask Eartha: Ditch the rock salt this winter
October 8, 2016
With winter approaching, I was wondering what my options are for de-icing areas outside my home. I have recently heard that ice melt has negative impacts on the environment and could potentially harm my pet. Could you explain more?
— Amber, Breckenridge
Thank you for your question, Amber. Winter poses a lot of challenges for those of us living in a high alpine environment. We spend several months each year battling icy sidewalks, stairs, decks and driveways, and it can be a struggle to safely navigate this slippery terrain. Fortunately, there are many different slip-prevention options residents can use to help decrease the risk of wiping out in your driveway. Unfortunately, not all of these options are equal environmentally speaking.
Often, the least expensive and most readily available option is using rock salt or ice melt on our sidewalks and roads. While salt compounds are effective at removing and keeping ice away, there are many negative impacts from using salt to de-ice our sidewalks. For example, ice melt can be extremely harmful to the dogs that live in Summit County. When dogs walk on salt, the pads of their feet are prone to frostbite when the salt reacts with the snow or ice — ouch! Also, and this should come as no surprise, salt is tasty for your dog. But licking residual salt off their paws or even eating it from sidewalks and roadsides can cause serious internal injuries or illness, leading to an avoidable visit to the vet. Wildlife is also negatively impacted by rock salt. Birds often mistake salt crystals for seeds, but even a small amount of salt can be toxic to their small bodies. Deer and moose are also drawn to roadways to eat salt crystals, which can cause car accidents and wildlife kills. And once spring rolls around again, all the meltwater transports leftover salts into rivers and creeks, where the higher salt content can stress aquatic life.
If negative impacts to pet and wildlife populations aren't enough to convince you to consider alternatives to rock salt, here are a few more reasons: Salt is corrosive, and residue left over from ice melt can lead to permanent damage to asphalt, concrete and wood decks, resulting in costly home repairs. Once the ice and snow melts, increased salt content in the ground around your home can damage plants and grasses.
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It's true that rock salt is an effective method for keeping your sidewalks and driveways ice free, but as far as the Steward household is concerned, the negative environmental impacts leave us searching for a better ice-melt option. What can an eco-friendly Summit County household to do? As it turns out, there are a number of products that are just as useful as ice melt, and they are also safe for animals, plants and vegetation. Here are a few ideas we'll be trying out this winter:
Made from fermented alfalfa plants, alfalfa meal is an ice melt substitute that is safe for the environment. It provides great traction, and, because it contains nitrogen, it melts ice. You can find alfalfa meal at most nurseries, feed supply stores or online. Added bonus: alfalfa meal is a fertilizer, so once the snow melts, it will enrich your soil.
Bare Ground Solution: A non-corrosive, environmentally friendly liquid de-icer. It has been used by cities and municipalities throughout the country to de-ice roadways and is now available for purchase online.
If you have a fireplace, ashes can provide great traction. Ashes help to melt ice quickly during sunny days because their dark color absorbs sunlight.
Sand is another great, all-natural option for providing traction. Brick sand and tube sand are coarser than regular sand, which increases grip. Sand is available at most hardware stores.
Elbow grease — that is, physically removing as much snow as possible by hand. It's free and one of the best ways to keep your sidewalks and driveways as safe as possible. Even better, you'll get a workout.
When the snow starts falling this winter, experiment with some of these alternative products so you can stay green even when the ground is blanketed in white.
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