White stains on your boots, rust spots on your car, and burned-out greenery—all par for the course in areas where road salt is used as a de-icer. While effective in certain conditions, sodium chloride isn’t exactly great for animals or people.
So what’s the alternative? Well, some people use cat litter to help gain a little traction, rather than melt the ice. Sand is used in many places instead of salt. And then there are these creative substances, used by snowed-in cities (and citizens) across North America:
1. Beet juice
This isn’t quite the purple mess you think it might be—this is actually sugar beet juice, a thick, syrupy substance left behind after the beets’ sugar has been extracted. (FYI: sugar beets are white, not purple.) When beet juice is mixed with traditional salt—which isn’t effective on its own when the mercury dips below -20—it can melt ice at temperatures of at least -30. Plus, the sticky liquid means the salt doesn’t scatter and bounce all over the road, meaning less can be used. Although it isn’t recommended, the juice is also non-toxic and safe to consume. Currently, municipalities including Toronto, Hamilton, Cambridge, Kitchener, and Guelph are using beet juice to help with de-icing.
2. Cheese brine
Wisconsin cheese-heads have another reason to cheer for cheddar. Cheese brine—the liquid left over from cheese production—is being used in the state as a de-icer. Similar to the use of beet juice, cheese brine mixed with road salt melts ice at temperatures lower than road salt can handle alone. Sure, it’s temporarily a little smelly—but the money saved on road salt, speedier melting and more efficient coverage means cheese brine de-icer is probably here to stay. And as a bonus, cheese factories don’t have to pay to have their brine taken away as waste.
EcoTraction—a Canadian invention—is a volcanic mineral that, rather than melting ice, provides greater traction than sand, another popular non-slip alternative to salt. EcoTraction actually releases minerals into the soil, keeping plants healthier once the snow has melted. And, according to the company, it’s completely non-toxic and tracks indoors less than either salt or sand.
4. Pickle juice
Salty brine is salty brine—so, facing a shortage of road salt, one New Jersey county decided to go with pickle juice as a de-icer. Apparently, the green liquid melts ice as well as traditional road salt and costs a lot less. You’d be forgiven if you started craving a burger after a city-wide spray of pickle juice.
5. Brewery by-products
Similar to how beet juice works, the leftover mash from distillation or beer brewing can be used to help traditional road salt adhere to roads and melt more efficiently at lower temperatures. By-products from vodka, rum, and beer production have all been used, with varying degrees of success. It goes without saying that this is the only time that alcohol and driving should mix.
6. Tomato juice
Researchers at Washington State University have been experimenting with different types of “green” de-icers, in an attempt to lessen road salt’s effect on the environment, especially Puget Sound. One option is a syrup, made from tomato juice (and similar in action to beet juice and other syrups), that can help road salt stick to roads better and lower its freezing temperature.
Have you seen any of these alternatives in action?