road salt

DYK that Road Salt is on Canada’s Toxic Substances List?

road salt

It’s that time of year again here in North America. I’m sure most of you have dug out your snow shovels and recovered a half-full bag of road salt from the back of the garden shed already.

Perhaps you’re yet to stock-up or replenish your salt stock. If this is the case, we’re asking a question: How much do you need traditional road salts? And did you know there were eco-friendly alternatives?

First, why are traditional road salts so ‘bad’?

Environmentally: At a quick over-view: They add salinity to the soil which damages the plant life around it.

Salt water run-off makes its way into our waterways and causes death to aquatic life.

When you consider the fact that Canadians use up to seven million tonnes of salt each year to help clear icy roads, it only makes sense that there are negative environmental aftershocks through our native ecosystems.

Did you know that Just one teaspoon can permanently pollute five gallons of water!?

Recent results from a study between January and March by the Ottawa Riverkeeper revealed that chloride levels in three neighbouring creeks exceeded the Canadian Council of Minister for the Environment (CCME) chronic toxicity threshold (as a direct result of the application of road salt).

These are hard facts as ALL samples assessed exceeded the acute (short-term) toxicity threshold on several occasions.

All three creeks contained chloride concentrations at a level that was unsafe for many aquatic organisms.

It was also revelated that this increase in salinity of natural waterways can make it easier for invasive and toxic species to thrive and spread. (Ottawa Citizen)

road salt

… Why traditional road salts aren’t environmentally sound … continued!

On a financial level, road salt contributes to the premature degradation of infrastructures:

“It is estimated that total damage done by road salt on infrastructure is as high as $687 per tonne of salt.”

A National Post article claims that there has been at least $5 billion worth in damages to Canadian infrastructure because of road salt usage.

Crews are already at work on a $4.2-billion replacement for Montreal’s Champlain Bridge. The original, built in 1962, was brought to the edge of collapse in only 50 years because of salt corrosion. 

underpass showing waterway

Salt is also detrimental to vehicles. It causes damage to the metal in all road vehicles and bicycles. It’s estimated that salt corrosion can damage brakes and increases vehicle depreciation, with an estimated cost of $800 a year.

In 2005, Transport Canada issued a recall of 3,000 BMWs and Minis that had been parked at the Port of Halifax during the 2015 ice storm. But it wasn’t the ice that caused the recall; salt de-icing had damaged the vehicles so badly that they couldn’t steer properly. 

road salt

But how can we make clearing roads, carparks and paths more environmentally friendly?

Firstly – How much snow and ice do you *need* to clear? Would a small pathway for your family, pets and neighbours do?

  • And would simply shoveling suffice? If there’s going to be a warm snap, shoveling under the winter sun makes for a great partnership!
  • Are you using the right amount of salt? Did you know: 2 tbsp of road salt will melt one square metre of space.
  • Will the salt you’re using be effective? Did you know that salt only works if the temperature is above -15c?… And could you change to an earth-friendly alternative?
road salt

After a successful trial, Calgary is continuing the use of beet juice in exchange for regular salt. Though slightly more expensive, the mixture of beet molasses and salt brine adhere better to the roads and pathways and break down snow layers that would otherwise be attached and so the need for reapplication is lower.

The state of Wisconsin is partnering their salt usage with cheese brine. Working in melty-harmony (a little cheese fun), cheese brine helps the salt stick to the roadway rather than bounce off. Second, it was found to speed melting. Its overall efficiency means the county uses less salt — and saves thousands of dollars. It also makes use of an otherwise wasteful byproduct.

road salt

There are, however, other accessible eco-friendly products for you to try at home:

Swish Maintenance sells a Clean & Green Ice Melter. “Environmentally responsible and effective, this ice melter is designed to improve traction and increase the safety of pedestrian and vehicle traffic while being gentle on vegetation, plants & concrete.”

Use sand: Though this can be messy indoors, keep a boot tray near the front door and wipe down your pup’s feet when you get in.

After shoveling: Use coffee grounds! Like sand, it won’t melt the ice but it will provide extra traction.

view of a snow covered house

And here are a few friendly tips:

Even if the de-icer says it’s safe for pets – look at the ingredients! Calcium and magnesium chloride can burn their paws. And when you take your animals on a walk, cover their feet and/or wash them off after a walk. (And remember to pick up their poop!). Pet owners: Keep up-to-date with eco-friendly pet care tips and tricks with our friends at HOPE Pet Food!

If you’re going to stick with salt, sweep up any grains that are left sitting. If it’s sitting: it’s not doing anything! You can reuse it later = less salt in the water systems and less money out of your wallet.

Engage your kiddos in environmental issues. Our friends at Fanimal host a great selection of programs for kids. Sparking an interest in conservation and the environment at a young age is key to working on solutions to everyday environmental issues.

A nice note to end on: Treat someone you know this year. Pay in advance for the shoveling for their drives and pathways. Reach out to local businesses (like our partners at The Gardener Peterborough (we always encourage supporting local!)) and see if you can set up a standing account for a month of eco-friendly shoveling. The Gardener Peterborough are the only contractor in Peterborough who uses brine, to help cut down the salt going into our waterways!

gift card for snow removal service

Do you have any creative alternatives to traditional road salt?

Let us know in the comments below. 

Help us spread awareness about the environmental impacts of road salt use!
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Stephanie Ward

An expert in account management, organization, and a true customer service professional, Stephanie can make any member feel more connected to our community. 

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