By Andrea Tomkins
This is not news, but we’ve had our first big snowfall. Also not news: Many of us were caught a little bit underprepared. I know I was. Thankfully my husband took the time to put our winter tires on a few weeks ago, but I still have planters that need to be dumped in the compost and cleaned out before putting them away in the shed to hibernate. I am sure they’re frozen solid by now.
On the plus side, we’ve managed to find all the ice scrapers and snow shovels, so we’re relatively ready. It’s important to keep the front walk and steps clear of snow and ice, not just for family and friends who visit, but for the people who deliver mail and packages to our door. Did you know that Canada Post has the right to refuse service if your walk isn’t clear? (The same goes for handrails. One year I wrapped them with fake pine garlands for Christmas and found an official notice in my mailbox about it. I didn’t know this was a no-no, but I get it!)
Last winter we started using an alternative product called EcoTraction and I’m really happy about it. It may be strange to be happy about this sort of thing – it’s a very utilitarian thing to be happy about – but the stuff we sprinkle on the walk also happens to be good for the environment, and our lawn and flowerbeds. (A win win!)
First, what is road salt?
Did you know that salt production is one of the world’s oldest industries? It can be obtained when sea water evaporates and leaves salt crystals behind, or it can be mined. Rock salt is a mineral which is extracted through deep-shaft mining. The salt in our saltshakers is purified for consumption but road salt contains mineral impurities, is why it’s not as white as regular table salt... or safe to eat! Additives are sometimes mixed into road salt to prevent clumping and to ease the production and delivery process.
If you’ve ever made ice cream with salt, or sprinkled some on an ice cube, (or paid attention in science class) you already know that salt lowers the freezing point of water. Road salt will deice your sidewalk, improve traction, and also help prevent ice from forming.
According to this article in the National Post, road salt is poisoning our water and costing billions of dollars in damage to our vehicles and infrastructure, which in turn has led to fatalities. It also has a detrimental effect on wildlife. For example, salty runoff impacts frog populations in ways scientists are just beginning to understand. (This is a great article from Smithsonian magazine about how road salt disrupts ecosystems.)
There is another downside to road salt in addition to its massive environmental impact. Road salt needs the presence of water to work properly, and as a result, won’t do the job in very cold weather. (Ottawa drivers know this already!)
Road salt is cheap and readily available, which is why municipalities use it. But to what end?
Road and sidewalk salt alternatives
terra20 carries EcoTraction, a really great alternative to traditional road salt. It’s made out of volcanic material that resembles small bits of gravel. It’s porous, so it absorbs moisture and provides the friction we need when our boots hit the ice. Not only does EcoTraction provide traction on slippery sidewalks, but it won’t harm plants and grass, so I feel good about using it and never worry about killing the flowerbeds that border our front walk. In fact, it’s good for grass. The porous material helps aerate the lawn and maintain moisture levels. EcoTraction is safe for pets and doesn’t contain salt, chemicals, or dyes. I am very pleased to say that we are never going back to the road salt and ice melting chemicals every again!
When the snow was gone in last spring I swept some of it into the lawn and collected the remainder for reuse next year. We keep it in a bin in the shed, so it’s easily accessible. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll need it sooner than later!