Road Salt

Road Salt Issues and Alternatives

Jack Frost has been a little bit of a nuisance this season. With record low temperatures and snowfall across the country, we’re all experiencing a little more of the winter blues than we’re used to. Unfortunately, these freezing temperatures and snow aren’t the only things that come with a hearty winter. They bring trouble with them, wreaking havoc on our cars, roads, shoes, homes. The ice that comes and goes is pockmarking our roads with potholes, and the road salt we use to help out is infamous for its corrosion abilities.

The Issues with Road Salt

Road salt is effective, yes, but it’s also dangerous for our environment and our cars. Road salt is really only effective between 15° and 32° Fahrenheit. After that, chemicals—like magnesium chloride and calcium chloride—are usually mixed in to increase its effectiveness. When the snow and ice melt, the water drains out, often soaking into roadside soils and entering streams and other smaller bodies of water. These high levels of chemicals soaks into the soil, killing plants and leaving the soil infertile for a time. The concentration of chemicals and salt is steadily increasing in our streams, lakes, and groundwater.

This is all concerning, of course. And even though water treatment plants tend to do a good job of removing impurities from water, I personally like to opt for a second line of defense, especially since it’s just built into my refrigerator. The water filter in your fridge can capture a lot of the nasty stuff that treatment plants miss. If you already regularly change your water filter, it’s a good idea to check it more frequently during harsh winter months when there’s lots of salt being thrown around. If you don’t check your filter, winter is a very good time to start.

Aside from the nasty effects on the environment, it’s also doing damage to our vehicles. You know that white buildup that salt leaves on your clothes and shoes? It’s full of properties that assist in corrosion. When the snow melts away, it’s left with a chemically enhanced salt that dries onto whatever surfaces it comes in contact with. Sure, rusting is a big issue in the winter, but road salt is doing more than just cosmetic damage to cars. When the white salt buildup adheres to your car’s frame, it’s slowly and effectively corroding it.

Greener Alternatives

There are more than enough green alternatives to road salt. Many states are getting creative in their efforts to decrease the high levels of road salt used by implementing greener alternatives. New York has begun using brine, a saltwater mixture. Brine is a liquid de-icer, which means the mixture has a lower salt content, isn’t as harmful to the environment, and won’t corrode cars as nastily as regular road salt. Wisconsin, the cheese capital of the U.S., has even started using the brine that’s left from cheese making to clear their streets of snow and ice. This is a highly green alternative as it disposes of the leftover waste while also decreasing the amount of unhealthy, dangerous road salt that’s used.

Beet juice is another alternative that some cities have turned to. Beet juice is great for the environment as well since it is organic and lowers the chance of corrosion. Regardless of where you live, there are better alternatives your city could be using instead of road salt.

There are also alternatives you can use on your personal property.

  • Sand. This is what I use. It’s the easiest, more efficient alternative, in my opinion. You can get a lot of sand for a low cost. Provides great traction and does not harm the environment. With a low albedo (a measurement that indicates how well something reflects solar energy), sand absorbs sunlight easily, warming up to melt the snow more easily. After everything is dry, I sweep the sand back up and use it later.
  • Ashes. If you’re the wood burning type, then you probably have more ashes than you know what to do with. Thankfully, ashes have a low albedo and provide good traction, which makes them a great alternative to road salt. Ashes blow away easily, so clean up isn’t usually a problem here.
  • Kitty Litter. This isn’t the best when you’re trying to save your wallet a bit. However, if you’re concerned with the runoff of normal road salt messing with your plants and soil, then this might be a good alternative if you have some on hand. In other words, this is a quick, green alternative for all you cat lovers out there.

These are just a few of alternatives, let us know what you us by commenting below.


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