Rock Talk

Road Salt and Environmental Alternatives

Last updated on November 15, 2019 at 02:14 pm

Road Salt

Salt saves lives. It combats snow and ice because it lowers the freezing temperature of water. A study carried out by Marquette University reported that road salt reduces crashes by 88 percent, injuries by 85 percent, and reduces the overall costs of accidents. That should be music to anyone’s ears, including the folks at Plymouth Rock in New Jersey.

The not-so-great news? Salt can have damaging effects on us, our pets and the environment. Salt can crack a pet’s paws and injure children’s skin if not washed off. Salt run-off contaminates the groundwater we drink and roadside streams where we fish. It can also damage concrete bridges and corrode metal. Lastly, salt becomes less effective when the temperature drops below 15°F.

The United States used 17 million tons of salt in 2013. So, what are some more environmentally friendly alternatives?

Environmentally “Greener” Alternatives.

EcoTraction: EcoTraction is a commercially available product recommended by GreenVenture. It is safe for wildlife, the environment and kids.

Sand: Sand is a wonderful, eco-friendly alternative. It is sold in bags and is safe for pets and humans. It helps provide traction and is relatively inexpensive.

Alfalfa Meal: This product is dry and grainy. It provides great traction and is non-harmful to humans, plants and animals.

Kitty Litter: It won’t melt snow, but it will provide excellent traction and is available in easy-to-carry bags. Spoiler alert: I know from personal experience, clay litter turns into a “muddy mush” so use with caution around the house.

Fireplace Ashes, Coffee Grinds or Wood Chips: Sprinkle these alternatives over ice and snow for traction. The fireplace ashes and coffee grinds are both darkly colored and will absorb sunlight, which means they will help the snow melt more quickly. 

Beet Juice: Beet juice is safe for animals, plants, roadways and cars. It is the sugar in beet juice, rather than the beet juice itself, that lowers the freezing point of water. Even the sugar in waste products from beer production would work! The drawback is that sugar alone may not be a very effective de-icer, and large amounts of sugar in spring run-off could result in overgrowth of bacteria or “germs” in local waterways.

Commercial Beet and Salt Mixtures: Beet juice increases salt effectiveness at lower temperatures and can decrease the amount of salt needed on roads. The beet juices cause the salt to stick to the road, which has the added benefit of less salt ending up in run-offs. New York State utilizes the beet and brine mixtures for their highways.

Pickle Brine: New Jersey is experimenting with pickle brine. Pickle brine releases from 14 to 29 percent less chloride than salt. It also melts ice at temperatures as low as -6°F.

Caution should be used when choosing other alternatives. For example, calcium chloride will not harm most plants and animals, however it can crack concrete, corrode metal and damage some trees.

You should also keep in mind that the effectiveness of these solutions and other alternatives can vary based on environment. If you are a homeowner looking for an alternative to traditional road salt, it may be worth experimenting in a small area that doesn’t receive a lot of traffic — by foot or vehicle. Remember, you could be liable for injuries that occur as a result of improperly treating or neglecting to treat slippery conditions on your property.

Do you have any questions or comments about road salts and their alternatives?  Please share them with us below.

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