Snow and Ice: Eco-Friendly Ways to Handle
Tips and tools for managing snow and ice along with alternatives to products like rock salt, which can be harmful to animals and plants
The bright blue skys and warming temps give one the sense that spring is not too far away and that this topic no longer relevant. But, as well all know, you never know. Give it a read, remember the tips for next year and send it to your friends in far away snowy places.
It’s winters like this one that reaffirm my decision to escape the long, dark and snowy winters of Boston more than a decade ago. The Northeast and many other places have really taken a beating and winter is far from over. I wonder … are they still using folding chairs (and old TVs, furniture, cones and other no-longer-useful household garb) to “save” coveted snow-cleared parking spaces in Boston?
I must admit that I’d been feeling a bit guilty about how we handled snow going into the winter season this year. During the first storm, we used ice melt (gasp!) that was passed along to us last year, and being one that hates to see anything go to waste, I used it. And, our plastic shovel (gasp!) was a spontaneous purchase during our first snow this winter. Our metal shovel from last year didn’t survive the season. Rather than stew in my guilt, I decided to do some research and explore more environmentally friendly ways to move and melt snow and ice. Here’s what I learned:
Rock salt is just bad news all around. It gets absorbed into the soil and travels into our water ways as the snow melts. On land, it’s hazardous to plants and animals as well. And, you really don’t want your kids playing in snow piles with this stuff in the mix. Mother Nature Network explains the pros and cons of using rock salt on our roadways and side walks as well the pros and cons of various alternatives.
Non-clumping kitty litter is often recommended as a good alternative and I have tried it in the past. Good for traction, but just a wee bit messy! We’ve also used sand, which is better than kitty litter, but it can clog drains if used in excess. And you really don’t want to track either into the house. This year, I’m trying birdseed for traction. While none of these will melt the snow, they will give traction, at least until they get covered by more snow and ice.
In anticipation of the snow this season, I stopped by Old Town Hardware on South Washington Street (so great to now have a traditional hardware store in Old Town!) and spoke with the manager, Bob Chapskie, who gave me the scoop on what’s been selling well and shared his favorite tools and tips:
For shoveling, the store has a few good options in several styles. They carry shovels made from recycled plastic, which are great for heavy snow because they’re lighter, and the corners won’t bend (though I suppose they could break off) if you hit ice. He also carried a metal shovel with an ergonomic handle that’s easier on the back. But, with heavy snow, the weight of the shovel can add to the load, making for a more laborious task.
If you’ve got a bit of ground to cover (or dig out), you might be interested in the ultra cool Sno Wovel. Haven’t tried it or seen it in action, but it appears to be a potentially good alternative for those with smaller properties who want to avoid the expense, bulk, and maintenance, etc. of a traditional snow blower.
Dealing with the snow and ice shouldn’t be all work and no play. So, right along with the working tools, they had a selection of snow saucers and even a sled made to support the littlest of bodies! Although they were made of plastic, I did grab a saucer for the kids (if you know eco-friendly alternatives, please tell us in the comments.)
For dealing with ice, Bob recommends Safe Step and Road Runner.
- Safe Step is safer for pets and plants than traditional ice melt and it leaves less residue. And you can use less and get the same effect. The first time out, buy it buy the container, which is designed to make spreading quick and easy. After that, save a few bucks and some plastic by buying the bag and refilling the container. It claims to be gentler on concrete and vegetation.
- Road Runner is another environmentally friend brand that uses calcium chloride, one of the safer and more effective ingredients for melting ice. It was out of stock when I stopped by, but they were expecting more soon. Their web site has a complete line of pet and environmentally friendly solutions.
- Another popular brand not currently available at Old Town Hardware is Safe Paw. The brand prides itself on being safe for pets and children. It’s salt free and claims to be non-corrosive and safe for plants and shrubs, decking, asphalt, concrete, pavers, etc.
On the residential front, many of the greenest will say avoid ice melt altogether and offer these tips:
- Stay on top of the snow and shovel frequently before it freezes.
- If you do have ice, lightly sprinkle sand or birdseed to create traction until the ice melts.
- If there’s even a light thaw, take the opportunity to clear the remaining snow and ice before it refreezes.
- If you must use ice melt, use it sparingly and only to loosen up the ice so that it can be chipped and shoveled away.