“What’s the most environmentally friendly way to remove the snow from my sidewalk?” This is one of the most popular questions that I get from readers. My favorite answer is “wait till spring.” If that’s not practical for you then try these methods.
1. Shoveling, plowing & sweeping:
Now stop your whining. I know this is not what you wanted to hear. But, without a doubt, human-powered removal is the only 100% eco-friendly way to get rid of snow. There are no downsides for the environment, your family or your lawn. A simple shovel and broom are the cleanest, cheapest and most effective to keep a safe walkway and you can save a ton by canceling your winter gym membership.
There are many creatively designed (and expensive) snow shovels available. But, my favorite is still the simple snow-plow style aluminum shovel with a wooden handle. You can make easy work of it by angling the blade toward the grass and plowing the snow forward rather than the conventional shovel, lift & toss method.
TIP: Get the snow cleared early in the day and let the radiant heat of the sun warm the surface to keep it safe and dry. Shovel before the snow reaches more than 3″. It’s easier to shovel 3″ of snow three times a day than it is to shovel 9″ of snow once.
Personally, I don’t find mechanical blowers any easier to use than a shovel unless there is a huge snowfall. By the time you drag the thing out of the garage and mess with all the moving parts you could have finished a small driveway and sidewalk. That said, if you’re looking for an eco-friendly snow plow you’ll have to choose from the lesser of the evils.
An electric blower is the cleanest, quietest and easiest to maintain (especially if you have solar panels). But, they are not as powerful as their fossil-fuel powered brethren. If you need more power you can find a diesel powered blower and use a bio-diesel. I once road in a car powered by leftover oil from a churro factory.
If you are still addicted to dirty foreign fossil fuel you have one more lesser evil. Honda makes a hybrid snow blower with emissions 30% lower than EPA Phase 2 standards.
2. Get Some Traction:
Sometimes simply keeping the surface from getting slick will do the trick. Try putting down an abrasive material like sand or wood ash to help get some traction. The black wood ash will also absorb some heat from the sun and help melt and evaporate the snow during the day. Sand should be used sparingly since it can clog local storm drains and create excess silt in local streams and rivers.
One interesting product is EcoTraction. It’s made from a volcanic material that is lighter than sand and has none of the disadvantages of chemical ice melts.
In 2008, the town of Ankeny, Iowa got deliciously creative. They used garlic salt donated from a local spice-maker to spread on the roads. That winter they had some of the tastiest road-kill around.
3. Ice Melt:
We all wish there was some safe and effective chemical that we can toss on the ground and make the snow or ice just disappear . . . but there just isn’t. Despite the growing chorus of wild claims of “green” or eco-friendly”, there is no perfect ice melt out there. Municipalities are studying the best approaches and looking for healthier alternatives. De-icers should be considered only as a last resort.
Let’s take a look at some options:
De-icers commonly contain either chlorides or acetates. Ingredients like Sodium Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride and/or Calcium Chloride are all salt.
Salt is bad for your pets, will kill you grass and plants, is corrosive to cars and will pollute nearby streams and rivers. Other than that . . . it’s great for melting snow. Use it rarely and very, very sparingly.
Products containing acetates are noted for being less corrosive than salts. Potassium acetate, often used at airports, has come under fire recently after research showed that it is toxic to fish and other marine life.
As they say, life is messy. So is snow removal. Slow down. Enjoy the morning. Take your time to shovel and breathe in the quiet snowy day.
Matt Grocoff, Esq. LEED is founder of Thrive - Net Zero Consulting Collaborative, host of Greenovation.TV, a contributor to The Environment Report on Public Radio, the green renovation expert for Old House Web, and a sought after lecturer. His home is America’s oldest net-zero energy home and was called “Sustainable Perfection” by The Atlantic, honored as one of USA Today’s “Seven Best Green Homes of 2010″ and Preservation Project of the Year. He has been featured in hundreds of publications and news shows including Washington Post, Detroit Free Press, Preservation Magazine, Solar Today, Fox Business News, Huffington Post and more. Join him on Google+, Twitter and Facebook