Rock salt, or sodium chloride, is the reliable way to de-ice slippery steps, sidewalks and driveways. But since the salt inevitably makes its way into soil, gutters and, from there, local waterways, it’s not the most eco-friendly option.
“Once the salt dissolves, it leaks into the soil, making it more acidic and preventing plants from absorbing moisture. And guess where that salt eventually ends up? In your faucet,” explains Julie Hancher of Green Philly Blog, whose mission is to “educate Philly and beyond on how to make greener everyday choices.” “Salt can leach heavy metals that make their way to the water supply,” she adds. Hancher and other local green gurus offer alternative ways to battle the ice this winter:
Shovel early and often
“Burn some calories the old-fashioned way, by shoveling right after the snow falls,” says Hancher. “It’s the most eco-friendly and proactive way to avoid ice.” If the thought of shoveling makes you want to nap, opt for an electric snowblower, which creates less air pollution than the gas-powered models, she suggests.
Get a grip
Scatter coffee grinds, sand or birdseed and wear boots with treads to gain traction and minimize slipping, Hancher says. Darker materials, like sand, can even help melt snow and ice by attracting heat, adds Marilyn Romenesko of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Green program. Just remember to leave those boots at the front door so you don’t track in globs of wet sand.
A little goes a long way
Sometimes rock salt really is the best option, but “dumping an entire 5-pound bag to clear off your 14 feet of sidewalk is unnecessary,” says Kevin Musselman of Sustainable 19125, an initiative developed by the Partnership for a Green Community. “Use it sparingly — the less salt you use, the better for the ecosystem.”
Musselman also suggests sweeping up any excess salt as soon as the ice melts so it doesn’t wind up on pets’ paws or running off into the gutter.