Last updated on April 29th, 2024 at 04:28 pm

red shovel placed in a pile of snow in front of snowy trees

Eco-Friendly Snow Removal Tips For a Green Winter Wonderland

The weather outside is frightful, but your snow removal practices don’t have to be. Minimize your snowprint with a few environmentally friendly snow removal tips.

Snow shovels

Just thinking about shoveling snow makes my back hurt. Get yourself a sturdy snow shovel with a steel or aluminum blade. In our naive days, we purchased an inexpensive plastic one (pictured) and just look at the worn out edge. I hate to think of the plastic particles that were shed as this shovel scraped the pavement.

Go electric

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality estimates that operating a typical 4-stroke gasoline snow blower for one hour emits as much pollution as driving a car 339 miles. For us in Utah, this is a particularly bad combination during our winter inversion (where cold air, along with all the pollution, gets trapped by the mountains under a layer of warm air).

Ego electric snowblower

I am a big fan of EGO electric equipment, and their electric snowblower is great. It is easy to handle and overall performs well. I’m sure it is probably not as strong as a gas-powered blower, but as I’ve never had one, I can’t compare. Ours can be a little difficult with large amounts of heavy, wet snow, but overall I am very happy with it.

The battery charge charges quickly and lasts long for what we need. We live on a corner so we have a fair length of sidewalk, and the battery will last long enough to clear it, the two-car driveway, and the walkway to the house.

Ice melt

As snow melts, the water disperses chemicals into lawns, garden beds, groundwater, and waterways. Therefore, be judicious in your use of ice melting agents and consider other alternatives.

Rock salt, aka sodium chloride, is the most commonly used ice melting agent. But more research shows that this widely-used chemical has significant environmental effects. Higher sodium levels results in increased salinity that is less hospitable to native plants and other freshwater organisms. In watershed area, these chemicals alter the quality of drinking water, becoming problematic for people who require a low-sodium diet.

Even more problematic is accumulating chloride levels in bodies of water has been shown to be lethal for fish, bugs, and amphibians. There is no natural process by which chlorides are broken down, metabolized or taken up by vegetation.

Some rock salts contain cyanide, or ferrocyanide, which is added as an anti-caking agent which can of course be problematic for both the environment and human health.

Additionally, road salt is corrosive and according to the EPA, its use results in $5 billion in annual repairs to vehicles and bridges throughout the country.

Eco-friendly ice melt alternatives

If you can anticipate the forecast, cover small areas (such as your front steps) with heavy, waterproof plastic or a tarp.

One method gaining popularity involves spraying a salt brine solution before storms, which can lead to a 75% reduction in the amount of salt used while keeping roads just as safe, according to the Cary Institute. You can make your own brine solution, too. It needs to have a salinity of 23.3%, which is achieved by mixing 2.5 pounds of salt per gallon of water. Pickle brine also works, although I think you’d have to eat a fair amount of pickles to have enough juice.

Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) is probably the most environmentally friendly commercial deicer available. Compared to sodium chloride, it is less damaging to soils and vegetation, less corrosive to concrete and steel, less toxic to aquatic organisms, and has limited impact on ground water. The downside is — surprise — it is around double the price of sodium chloride.

One last option is spreading something for traction rather than melting ice. Materials like sand, kitty litter, and bird seed are possible options. The downsides to these is they leave you with a bit of a mess to clean up later.

Best practices for using deicers

Sometimes using a ice melting agent is the best option for a safe walking path. If this is the case, make sure you use the product as directed.

  • Try to anticipate and spread deicer before snow and ice start to accumulate. This can reduce the amount of chemical needed by 30%.
  • Once snow is present, always clear it as much as possible first. Less deicer is needed and it also works quicker.
  • Rock salt is not effective in temperatures under 15 degrees F, so be aware of current conditions.
  • As with any chemical, always follow the label directions. The salt crystals should be roughly 3 inches apart. Using more isn’t more effective, just more expensive.
  • Only apply to areas that people or vehicles will be traveling.
  • Many plants, including turfgrass, don’t do well with salt. Use care to not apply too close to plants, at least 5-10 feet away.
  • Sweep up extra salt to reuse.
  • Don’t mix salt and sand. Salt is for melting and sand is for traction on top of the ice; they work against each other.
  • Do not use fertilizer for deicing.
  • Rinse pet’s paws before going inside to protect their paws, and remove shoes to protect floors and the spread of chemicals indoors.

Final thoughts on eco-friendly snow removal

There’s not much to being green when you’re dealing with the white stuff. If you’re armed with a non-plastic snow shovel that’s built to last, a non-polluting electric snowblower, or eco-friendly ice melt, you’re ready. Try to stay warm while keeping your outdoor spaces safe from snow and ice, as well as unwanted harmful chemicals.

If you want more ideas on how to be green in your landscape, click here.

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