Let it Snow? Sustainable Snow Salt and Removal

Published on December 9th, 2010 | by

I’ll admit, I love snow; and Pittsburgh winters never to fail to deliver on the fluffy white stuff.  But this week, as I got my first taste of what is sure to be a long white winter and nearly took a spill on on my un-salted sidewalk; I started to wonder how sustainable that snow salt is?  As it turns out, not very; but we do have options for sustainable snow salt and removal.

In 2005 the EPA published Safer roads What You Should Know About Safe Winter Roads and the Environment, with the following facts about salt:

  • Salt contaminates both reservoirs and wells used for drinking water.
  • Too much salt in streams can harm plants and animals.
  • Salt corrodes vehicles, road surfaces, and bridges, causing repairs which are not only costly but also have environmental consequences of their own.

On the municipal level the EPA offers advice on being more environmentally friendly and efficient on snow removal and ice treatment, but what can we do at our own homes?

Sustainable 19125 had a great article regarding snow removal at the beginning of the year offering Philadelphian residents advice on Thinking Green when Seeing White. Serlingrod reported:  the old-fashioned snow shovel is the only environmentally-conscious way to remove snow.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the typical two-cycle snowblower can expel nearly a pound of carbon monoxide for every hour it runs.

Rock salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) on the other hand deices our roads and sidewalks by by dissolving into precipitation and lowering the freezing point, thereby melting ice and snow.

Sustainable 19125 suggests as an alternative to rock salt try using calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), which is made from limestone treated with acetic acid. While CMA has less potential to affect the environment and is not as corrosive as salt, it does tend to be more expensive and harder to find.

I ran across a recent television advertisement for MagicSalt, a highly effective de-icing agent made from a patented blend of magnesium chloride and condensed distiller solubles. It is non-toxic, bio-degradable and has a corrosion index lower than distilled water.  It is said to be  highly effective down to -30° “burn-ing off” with no plowing. Magic Salt purports to work faster and last longer, saving the consumer 30%-50% in salt use so might as well go for the best snow shovel for driveway. Magic Salt promises to be less corrosive, biodegradable and environmentally friendly.

While the website tends to advertise to the bulk buyer they do have Magic Salt in pre-packaged 25 pound bags and 50 pound bags.  That should be enough to get us through the Pittsburgh winter.

For any other sustainable ways to rid yourself of ice and snow, please post a comment or reply, and be safe this winter!

Image Credit:  cory.cousins via Flickr under CC license.


About the Author

Emily McKinin DeMasi is a 2011 MBA/ MA Public Policy candidate and Peace Corps Fellow at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Her thesis work concerns Corporate Social Responsibility in the United States. She also works as a Research Fellow at Bridgeway Capital, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in downtown Pittsburgh. Emily has worked as an Associate in a Private Equity Placement Firm in NY and as a Water and Sanitation Volunteer in Ivory Coast, West Africa. She hopes to combine her business background with her passion for development and inspire others in the fields of Sustainability and CSR.