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Shoveling Snow

Use Less Salt This Winter

Posted by Kim Ellson - Gardening

In the present day world we have created, it is virtually impossible to think away the use of salt over the winter months in cold climate areas. Salt is what keeps our roads clear, our transportation system functioning and most importantly our economy going. In this day and age it is an essential requirement to be at work consistently and on time. There is no such thing as conforming to nature; instead nature must conform to us and our schedule. In the case of roads functioning over winter, salt is what it takes to tame nature over the winter months. The winter use of salt has become a necessity rather than a choice to be made. Now whilst salting does serve its purpose by allowing us to keep operating regardless of weather, braving the harsh elements of winter weather, at what cost? For though there is an ever-increasing awareness of the environmental damage caused by salt use, due to a lack of effective alternatives it continues to be used. Some municipalities now supplement their salt use with non-harmful, natural additives; beet juice, sugarcane molasses and cheese brine. These substances reduce the overall amount of salt used, yet despite these efforts salt is still being put down by the millions of tons every year. It is estimated that 22 million tons of salt are used to treat the roads in the US per year, which results in 137 pounds per person. And with the road surface area continuing to grow, it can only be surmised that the salt use will have to increase accordingly. Which brings us back to the question, at what cost?

For though many of us have a vague idea in the back of our heads that excessive salt use is destructive, do we truly know any specifics of its effect? Furthermore the knock-on and long-term effects it causes? As a society we keep learning just how interconnected everything is, and thus how impossible it is to gauge how one altered factor will affect the whole. In simple terms, there is no short answer to this question, we do not know. Conservation and restoration efforts across all habitat types have shown that we cannot simply fix one single factor in an ecosystem. It would be equal to mending one of our organs and ignoring the rest, the system must function as a whole. Salt affects so many factors; home gardens and landscaping, wildlife, water bodies and aquatic life. Now for those not concerned about wildlife or its endurance on this planet, the contamination of groundwater and freshwater supplies is an issue that concerns us all, whether a nature lover or not. Fresh water is a highly limited resource on this planet and undoubtedly one of our most vital for basic survival. Yet as a species we possess an uncanny ability to focus entirely on our present day, not realizing the consequences of our actions in the long term. This is not surprising given that we are so consumed with our daily chores of earning a living, raising a family, and fulfilling societal responsibilities, that we are left with little time or energy to tackle worthy, yet overwhelming causes. It becomes unthinkable for those working several jobs to take on any extra battles, especially when these are prone to being long-winded and bearing minimal chance of success. We are but merely human.

Thus despite the awareness that things must change, the question stands, who is to do it? No single business is going to take a stand and salt less when this means opening themselves up to potential lawsuits and financial ruin, for the system is working against them. This is why it must be a collective effort, it can only be. All must decide to put the environment, our environment first, above all else, for our own good. The elimination of outlandish and excessive lawsuits would without doubt reduce the oversalting of areas to avoid being sued. The use of more practical footwear seems something that could be achieved with such little effort or compromises to be made.

Presently there is no perfect solution to be implemented, especially large scale, otherwise I am sure many authorities would gladly do so, however there are some alternatives that can be used by home owners on a much smaller scale.

Always remove snow prior to applying deicer as deicer is ineffective on snow and it is a misuse of the product. Pick the correct tool for the job to work more efficiently, i.e. scoop shovel to lift snow, push shovel to push snow, brush for light snow, ice chisel to break up ice and ice scraper to push under ice. Avoid compacting snow, do not walk or drive over it, this will make it a lot more difficult to shovel and compacted snow becomes ice. Choose the most suitable deicing product for the conditions on site, i.e. many deicers are ineffective below certain temperatures. Read the label and know your product well. Oversalting is common; try to use the correct amount of deicer assisted by a spreader or shaker. Always sweep up any extra salt after snow and ice have melted, and either reuse it or dispose of it accordingly. Be aware that it is not only the misuse of salt in your diet that will adversely affect your health, overuse of outdoor salt will contaminate fresh water and find its way back into your body by drinking water, leading to the same health problems. A small change can go a long way, for every one teaspoon of salt less you use, you are keeping 5 gallons of fresh water uncontaminated, salt free and able to be enjoyed by many for generations to come.

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