Eco-Friendly Snow Removal Ideas for Winter

By Angela Tague in Thinking Sustainably

In the Midwest, where I live, there’s no shortage of snow during the winter months. I grew up carving igloo-style snow forts in drifts, making snow angels, and building scarf-clad snowmen while my parents cleared the driveway. Now, as an adult, that last task is on my winter to-do list, and I’m researching eco-friendly snow removal options.

We use road-grade salt, sand, and a mixture of the two to melt compacted snow and provide extra traction on slippery public streets in northwestern Iowa. We also treat the sidewalks, which makes me question where all those ice-melt catalysts go when the snow melts. Do they soak into the grass and soil below? Are they running into our sewer system and eventually emptying into our local waterways?

Learning About Winter Salt Usage

Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water, which helps speed up the melting of snow and ice, according to the Oregon Environmental Council. The council says most salt washes into to public storm sewers, where it’s directed to the nearest river. There, it may harm flora and fauna that aren’t accustomed to salty water, including fish, frogs, aquatic plants, and turtles. Salt that sticks to grass and trees causes dehydration and may kill the plants.

In Oregon, they’ve adopted several eco-friendly snow removal methods and reserve salt use for troublesome areas. They suggest homeowners do the same by using everyday items to clear snow and ice.

Try spraying pickle brine on your steps and sidewalk. This salty solution is lower in chloride than other salts and prevents snow and ice from adhering to the concrete. Alfalfa meal and coffee grounds also work to melt ice without harming the environment, and have a grainy texture to provide traction and prevent slipping.

Why is Sand Used in Winter?

After living near both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers over the years, I know exactly why we use sand on our roadways. It’s plentiful, inexpensive, local, and provides traction on ice. It’s not uncommon to see extra sand spread in intersections and parking lots to help keep motorists safe.

My city has started implementing a sand and salt mixture for snow management on our roadways to provide both melting of snow and grip for tires. At the end of the season, you do see a buildup of sand on the curbs and grassy boulevards, but the sand gradually works into the soil or washes away, back to the rivers.

building a snowman

Use Your Muscle, Enjoy Family Moments

I find the best way to keep my sidewalks clear, without sand and salt, is to be proactive and grab a shovel. When there’s a break in the snowfall, I clear the white stuff. When someone makes a footprint on snow-covered concrete, the compaction quickly turns that area to ice. The Department of Energy agrees and suggests placing shoveled snow onto lawns and planters, so it can soak into the ground as it melts and not pool and freeze on concrete.

Round up your family to make snow removal a memorable experience. Between clearing sidewalks and the driveway, you can engage in a friendly snowball fight, catch snowflakes on your tongues, or build a snowman together. Remember to snap a few photos to share with friends and family!

I also sprinkle a pet-safe ice melt product on the sidewalks where my dogs travel to reduce their exposure to possible paw irritation from natural salt. The package says it won’t harm nearby grass and plants, so it’s a win-win for me.

Are you trying any new eco-friendly snow removal ideas this winter? We’d love to hear what’s working for you! Tweet us at Tom’s of Maine.

Image source: Angela Tague

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Make safety for your family and the environment a priority—keep walkways and driveways clear of snow and ice this winter by using eco-friendly products. Whether you challenge the kids to a snow scooping race or help your toddler sprinkle sand on the sidewalk, you're sure to turn winter chores into awesome seasonal memories.