April may be the cruellest month, but December, January, and February are the saltiest. Every winter, Canada dumps millions of tons of road salt into the environment. Of course, this is to keep streets, driveways, walkways, stairs, and parking lots safe—so hey, no judgement. But eventually, all this sodium unhelpfully washes into our forests, fields, and water systems. Boo. So, how can you reduce your road salt output? Follow these tips:
1) Shovel like a boss. “Shovel first, and shovel well,” says Kelsey Scarfone of Environmental Defence. But clear off—and salt—only the pathways that you’re actually going to use.
2) Don’t over salt. You think that you’re using the right amount…but it’s probably too much. You only need about a handful per sidewalk slab (or equivalent amount of space).
3) Aim carefully, especially when it’s windy. Flinging salt into your yard is useless and wasteful.
4) If you use a salt spreader—giant driveway?—make sure it’s calibrated correctly, and the auger isn’t getting clogged. Spreaders that deposit haphazard gobs of salt need a tinker.
5) If the surface that you’re salting is -10℃ or below, sodium chloride won’t melt much of anything. The salt still provides traction, sure, “but that’s not an effective use of salt,” says Scarfone. “When it’s really cold, using sand to provide traction is the better option.” (Other traction alternatives include fireplace ash, coffee grounds, and kitty litter—but full disclosure: we haven’t Cottage Life Simulation Tested these.)
6) The more ice that you have, the more salt that you’ll need. Keep problem patches from forming by directing downspouts away from the driveway or any walkways.
7) Using de-icing alternatives? There are plenty on the market—“pet-safe” and “eco-friendly” versions made with beet juice, for example. Keep in mind that these usually still contain salt, just not as much. And they still have an impact on the environment. So follow the manufacturer’s directions and only use what you need to stay safe and slip-free.