One of the challenges of winter is maintaining safe sidewalks and driveways, free of snow and ice, without using environmentally harsh substances. Shoveling the snow is usually enough until it begins to melt in the daytime and freeze overnight. We all know that salt and various chemical substitutes will melt the ice, and that sand provides traction. Which is the responsible choice?

Rock salt is the least expensive and most caustic choice. It damages the bodies of our cars, pollutes waterways, kills trees and shrubs, causes skin and bronchial irritation in humans and painful, burning paws on dogs. Rock salt (sometimes mixed with sand) is what many cities and towns put in the blue barrels on street corners in our neighborhoods.

Hardware stores sell various blends and brands of chemical ice melt. There are also formulas advertised to be safe for use around pets. While these products are less harmful than rock salt, they still end up contaminating soil and water sources. They are also the more expensive solution.

Sand does not melt the ice but it provides needed traction for both vehicles and pedestrians. This can be particularly important when snow turns to stubborn ice and sidewalks become nearly impassable. “Traction sand”, coarser than sandbox sand, is available at hardware stores, is inexpensive and can be easily kept in a bucket by the door or in the back of your car. You’ll need to sweep up in the springtime but you and your environment will be healthier.

by Anna Zeusler

We occasionally publish “classic” articles that we feel are still relevant to readers. This article is from the Jan/Feb 2014 issue of the Green News.