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Ecoholic: Alternatives To Salt On Your Icy Walkway

Posted Nov 20 2009 10:00pm
This week's Ecoholic column in Now Magazine discusses the idea of green alternatives to using salt to break up ice on your walkways.

You probably already know that basic rock salt (sodium chloride) isn't great for your grass and flower beds but did you know salt can cause heavy metals like lead to leach to your soil's surface and into groundwater? And when it washes into our storm sewers and overflows into lakes and streams, we're talking long-term damage to aquatic life.

Ask at any hardware store if they have eco-friendly salt-alternatives and they'll point you to calcium chloride. The stuff will cut through ice at much lower temps than regular salt, but it stresses the environment in a lot of the same ways. What makes it earth-conscious is that you have to use way less of it than other types – 3 ounces per square yard versus 8 of the other stuff.


Other options include Magic Salt, which is more efficient than regular salt and less damaging to vegetation and concrete. It is also biodegradable and water-soluable.

Calcium magnesium acetate is a non-corrosive, biodegradable de-icer that's generally petroleum-derived but can be made from corn, whey or wheat. Unlike plain salt, calcium and magnesium actually improve soil quality, and acetate is biodegradable. However, it doesn't really melt the ice, it just breaks it down a bit - you still have to shovel it away. But isn't that the idea anyway - just use it to loosen the ice before you try shovelling it away?

Paw Thaw is a supposedly animal and vegetation-friendly blend of calcium magnesium acetate and "fertilizer-grade ingredients." Unfortunately the manufacturer won't release the list of "ingredients." We'll put this in the TBD file.

As for homemade solutions like kitty litter and ash, well, neither does anything to melt ice. They just provide a little extra traction. Plus, neither is particularly great for the earth, your plants or our waterways.

Some municipalities use sand on roads, but again, it does nothing to melt ice and can actually clog sewer systems. Plus, when crushed by car tires, the particles become fine enough to take flight, polluting the air and irritating asthma sufferers.

Sorry to say this, but the wisest, most conscientious option is also the most labour-intensive. That's right, good old-fashioned shovelling. Get yourself an ergonomic shovel if you have back trouble, and a flat hoe to break up icy patches. Bend at the knees, not the waist – you know the drill. If you must, use a little de-icer, and shovel your snow toward the road, not your flower beds and bushes.

Thanks Now Magazine!


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