An earth-friendly guide to winter ice and snow removal

WISCONSIN — You’ve pulled the boots and heavy coats out of the closet. Before you pull out the salt and snow blower though, consider the environmental impacts of your snow and ice removal practices.

“Salt contaminates our water and can ruin surrounding soil and vegetation,” says Amanda Wegner, media specialist at Clean Wisconsin. “Snow blowers emit carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides and refueling can result in gasoline spills that eventually trickle into waterways.”

What can the Earth-conscious Wisconsinite do?

1.      Stick to the shovel

The best thing you can do is use a shovel and a little muscle power. Shoveling snow can be a great workout and an excuse to skip a day at the gym. If you’re not quite up for the physical activity, there are plenty of neighbor kids out there willing to work for a few bucks or a plate of cookies. Shoveling the old-fashioned way emits absolutely zero greenhouse gases and keeps our waterways, wells and drinking water free of salt and gasoline.

2.      Power wisely

For bigger snow removal jobs, a snow blower may be necessary. If you must use one, check into buying an electric or hybrid snow blower. These models emit less air pollution and use less fossil fuels than their gas-guzzling counterparts while still providing a quick and powerful snow removal job.

3.      The no-salt diet

Snow’s ugly cousin, ice, presents the biggest environmental concern. Instead of using water- and soil-polluting salt to melt away that treacherous ice, use an abrasive alternative like sand, wood ash or cat litter; just remember to keep these materials out of storm drains. Any of these alternatives to salt are better for the health of drinking water, aquatic life, soil, pets and nearby plants. If you must use salt, find one that does not contain sodium chloride, which is the worst of all salt combinations, and use sparingly.

Clearing snow and ice to make sidewalks and driveways  safe is an important winter chore, but it can have unintended environmental consequences. Take a moment to consider your options before dousing your driveway in salt this winter; a little sweat equity can help keep your yard and pets, as well as Wisconsin’s air and waterways, cleaner and healthier this winter.