Categories: Green

Planet-Friendly Alternatives to Melting Snow and Ice

It isn’t always easy finding the right answer to meet your needs as a modern family, following local ordinances, and doing the right thing for the planet. Many families, especially those living in areas where heavy snowfall is frequent, and where ordinances require prompt attention to and removal of said snow, feel their only option is to turn to choices for removal that aren’t exactly planet friendly.

The good news is that this isn’t the case. There are still options available that take the planet into account and still do a bang-up job of removing the snow – even in colder temperatures.

For the most part, consumers have three options when it comes to snow removal:

1) Manual

2) Mechanical

3) Passive

Each one of these methods offers different options – some more attractive personally —  and according to the planet — than others.

  1. Manual Snow Removal

From a planetary perspective alone, this is the best option, by far. To do this, you’ll need the following:

  • an ergonomic shovel
  • warm clothes in removable layers
  • nice thick gloves
  • a warm hat

The best plan is to shovel hourly while the snow is falling at a moderate rate and to shovel more frequently during the heaviest bands of snow.

Shoveling this way prevents a buildup of snow from happening that can become dangerously heavy for people to handle – landing them in chiropractor’s offices on good days and in emergency rooms or worse when things go bad.

The second key to successful snow shoveling is to only shovel what is necessary. In most cases, Mother Nature will take care of the rest of it quickly enough. You need to free up enough sidewalk to meet community ordinances and driveway space to take care of parking your cars.

Your driveway and sidewalk do not necessarily need to be free and clear of all snow in order to be safe and sound for family, friends, and other community members to walk on. It’s only the areas where people tend to walk that need the bulk of your snow removing attention.

WARNING! People with heart conditions should not shovel snow as the exertion can exacerbate the condition, inviting a heart attack. If you have a heart condition, one of the other options for snow removal is a better fit. As always, talk to your physician, before attempting to shovel snow.
  1. Mechanical Snow Removal Methods

It’s important to note that some mechanical methods of snow removal are greener than others, though many people – even those who love the planet –  prefer to play with toys of winter that aid in the snow removal process like these.

Gas-Powered Snow Blowing Machine – The quintessential snow removal “toy” that combines raw power with the snow removing capabilities. This device pollutes not only the air around you with carbon emissions from the fossil fuels it burns, but also with a large amount of noise. For this reason, it’s not a machine the planet (or your neighbors) is overly fond of.

ATV with Snow Plow Attachment – While this mechanical device does still burn fossil fuels and makes some noise, it is not as loud as the average snow blower. It also emits fewer emissions and burns fewer fossil fuels than the snow blower. This means it is a better choice for your ears, your wallet, the planet, and the affections of your neighbors.

Electric Snow Blower – This device has quite a reasonable price point in the store and can take care of the same amount of snow than its gas-powered cousins do without the negative impact on the planet to contend with.  The real beauty of the electric snowblower is that it uses less energy (no fossil fuels as it is powered by electricity), creates far less noise than either other option, and releases zero emissions – making it the most planet-friendly option of the three.

  1. Passive Methods of Addressing Ice and Snow

Passive methods are often the most attractive snow removal methods. There are several options available to consumers in an even wider range of prices. The problem arises in that the cheapest choices available are often the most detrimental to the planet. Consider the following options for removing snow to decide which one matches not only your commitment to the planet, but also your budget best.

Sidewalk and Driveway Heating Mats – These mats are highly effective at melting snow and preventing its buildup on driveways and sidewalks. The fact that it operates on electricity means that it doesn’t have a zero impact on the planet, but that doesn’t mean it’s a better option for the passive removal of snow.

Heating mats are more cost-effective than the next listed option, which is installed radiant heat. They deliver similar results in that their total environmental impact is limited to the construction and energy source, and that they use no chemicals that can find their way into water systems, injure pets and other animals, or have a negative impact on nearby plant-life.

Radiant Heat Installed beneath Driveways and Sidewalks – Unlike snow melting pads, these systems are installed beneath the surface of the driveway and sidewalks. Their heat offering benefits are triggered when precipitation is sensed at freezing temperatures, so that they are automated and not visible to others.

This, of course, means they must be installed while the sidewalk and driveway is being installed. Otherwise, they make an effective tool for eliminating common problems related to ice and snow.

Chemical Snow Removal Options – These are generally these least planet-friendly choices available to consumers, due to the chemical nature of the products. Some de-icers provide even greater challenges to the planet than others. It’s the chemical nature of de-icers that make them such a threat. If you feel you must use chemicals for de-icing, read labels faithfully and avoid de-icing products containing the following ingredients:

  • Chlorides – salts are chloride based, and the most dangerous types of ice melting products on the market today. Unfortunately, their low price points also makes them the most widely used.
  • Colorants – only use products with colorants that are food grade.
  • Nitrogen-based Urea – Not only are these ice melting products more expensive than others on the market, but they are also relatively ineffective at temperatures lower than 20 degrees. There’s also the fact that any urea used to melt ice will eventually find its way into runoff groundwater as well as lakes and streams.

Rock Salt Warning

A special note about rock salt. Rock salt is perhaps one of the least expensive ice removal and traction products on the market today. They are widely used because the price is so low, yet they provide substantial risks to the planet and to your pets.

Rock salt has jagged edges that not only cut the paws of your favorite pets, but also burns them. Puppies may lick their paws spreading the burning chemicals to tongues and mouths. One recommendation is that you choose chemical products that are safe for animal paws, but that doesn’t guarantee products will be good for the planet – only that they will be better for your plants.

As if that isn’t enough, rock salt is also widely known for pitting concrete, damaging metal on cars, and doing harm to plants and local waterways, groundwater, streams, and rivers.

Safe Alternatives to Chemical De-icers

Before you give up on all de-icing products, though, it’s a good idea to explore safer de-icing options that are highly effective at removing snow and melting ice, like the following:

  • Organic Salt Free De-icer – This product costs more than salt-based products, but it is an effective tool for removing snow and ice.
  • Kitty Litter – Frankly, kitty litter does little, if anything, to remove ice. It does, however, help you gain traction so you can walk without slipping as much.
  • Sugar Beet Juice – Cities are turning to this as a viable tool for colder weather ice and snow removal as well as to stretch tapped salt supplies. You can use this to help lower the melting point of snow and ice. The added benefit is that it’s safe for pets, people, plants, metals, and concrete.
  • Alfalfa Meal – Often used as fertilizer, alfalfa meal provides an effective green tool for melting ice and snow. Not only does it provide traction, but it’s also highly effective – even when used in moderation.

Of course, chemicals and de-icers aren’t the only solution for dealing with snow. If you aren’t inclined to put in the sweat equity of removing snow and ice, then you should consider contracting with a snow removal service that specializes in green methods of removal. These services will come to your home and remove the snow from your sidewalks and driveway for a fee.

Your other choice is to leave the snow, assuming local ordinances allow you to do so, and using either shoes with special ice cleats for traction, adding strapon cleats to your shoes, or using one of the following items for added traction on your sidewalks, walkways, and driveway:

  • Kitty Litter
  • Sand
  • Straw
  • Sawdust
  • Wood Chips
  • Shredded Corn Cobs
  • Bird Seed

The bottom line is that you do have options to consider when it comes to creating a safer atmosphere around your home when winter weather hits. Keep these things in mind, and you’ll have the tools you need to make an informed decision about planet-positive choices for removing ice and snow all winter long.

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    Amber Merton

    Amber Merton is an accomplished writer on the topics of green living and sleep. Her work has been covered in numerous online publications. Amber has been a regular author on the PlushBeds blog for the past 7 years.

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