This winter has seen a lot of snow for many areas of the country. A couple of weeks ago, there was snow on the ground in every state but Hawaii! With each forecast for additional inches of accumulation, the shelves of hardware and home improvement stores are emptied of snow supplies by people preparing to battle the snow on their own front steps, sidewalks and/or driveways. Snow shovels, salt and snow blowers can all help make these areas passable again – but what’s the greenest way to get rid of the white stuff?
It might be tempting to lay down a bunch of salt to try and cut down on the amount of snow you have to shovel, but there are good reasons not to. Although salt is a naturally-occurring substance, it’s all about how much enters the environment. As the snow and ice melts away with spring temperatures and rains, it carries with it the salt applied during the winter freeze into roadside vegetation, storm drains, and streams. Large quantities of salt can damage the structure of plants and soil, leading to erosion, which results in additional pollution of area waterways. Salt that ends up in freshwater streams, rivers, ponds and lakes can kill or damage aquatic plants and animals. Salt can even end up in groundwater, where it can contaminate drinking water supplies. The majority of salt in a given region is most likely applied by highway crews seeking to maintain safety on the roads. Some jurisdictions are experimenting with ways to cut down on the amount applied while maintaining safe conditions—for example, by applying solutions of saltwater and beet juice (which is proving highly effective). Individuals and households can also do their part. Limit your salt application to areas where shoveling just can’t achieve safe conditions, and apply it sparingly.
Snow blowers can certainly seem a tempting way to save yourself the physical effort of shoveling. In areas that routinely get multiple feet of snow throughout the winter, they may be the only practical solution. Consider an electric snow blower instead of a gas-powered one. While they both use energy, an electric model won’t result in as much air pollution. If you have a snow blower on hand, consider saving it for the really big snowfalls.
By process of elimination, the shovel wins the prize for the greenest method of snow removal. Powered by your own energy, it uses only the resources that it took to make the shovel, a one-time resource investment that can pay off for years. Your use of it won’t leave any chemical mess behind to damage the environment. Shoveling several times during a storm can ensure complete snow removal while minimizing the weight you have to carry. Plus, the exertion of shoveling burns extra calories—calories you could spend on a cup of hot cocoa while you celebrate the green way you just cleaned up after the latest blast of winter . . . and dream of spring.