“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” –Benjamin Franklin Snow clearing is a dirty business. It’s generally run as an emergency response service with the focus on clearing snow after it has accumulated. This reactive approach to snow clearing leads to dumping lots of rock salt and other environmentally damaging materials on top of snow and ice build-up to get rid of it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that we apply more than 20 million tons of sodium chloride on our roadways every winter. That’s hugely toxic to the environment. In Chicago winter snow and ice are inevitable, but snow clearing can be done safely in a much more environmentally friendly way by taking a proactive approach. Here are four ways to turn a white winter ‘greener’, with prevention playing a key role in redefining the snow clearing process:
- Pre-treat surfaces when ice and snow are in the forecast. Keep an eye on the weather. Applying ice melt before a storm hits, so that the snow can’t adhere to the ground, is usually more efficient than waiting until after the snow has fallen and cuts down on the amount of ice melt needed – and wasted. Think snow prevention instead of snow clearing.
- Use environmentally friendly ice melt instead of rock salt. Cities use rock salt because it’s cheap. But rock salt’s public safety benefits come with ecological drawbacks: Salt is bad for your pets, will kill your grass and plants, is corrosive to cars, and will pollute nearby streams and rivers. A recent scientific study found that 70 percent of the salt applied to roads stays within the region’s watershed. Once it gets there, the contamination is difficult and expensive to remove.
- Don’t let the snow build up. 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 all at once. Let Mother Nature help with the grunt work by doing snow clearing early in the day. The radiant heat of the sun will warm the surface to keep it safe and dry.
- Replace asphalt driveways and concrete walkways with permeable surfaces. Permeable pavements allow water to drain through surfaces where it would normally pool. Because there’s no standing water on permeable surfaces, ice doesn’t form in freezing weather virtually eliminating the need for deicer application. And because the permeable pavement is porous and does not become an impermeable ice block, it is not subject to damage caused by the freeze/thaw cycle which creates costly repairs every year on asphalt and concrete surfaces.