Winter cold and its impact on the environment: A look at different de-icing methods

Winter cold and its impact on the environment: A look at different de-icing methods

Snow, ice and slippery conditions are a danger in winter. © Sjo, GettyImages

In winter the nights become longer and temperatures often drop below freezing. This also increases the danger on the streets and sidewalks. Because snow, lightning ice and freezing rain ensure less grip on the ground. Road salt and grit are the classics in the fight against slippery conditions. Although gritting agents are essential for safety, they can also be ecologically questionable. There is therefore often a conflict when it comes to winter service.

Sprinkling with salt: highly effective and easy

Salt has established itself as a gritting agent in both private and public areas. The salt lowers the freezing point of water and thereby prevents streets, sidewalks and driveways from icing over. However, road salt only really works effectively with small amounts of snow. Snowy paths and streets must first be cleared. Otherwise the salt will be diluted too much and the defrosting effect will not occur. Is particularly popular Road salt for parking areas, sidewalks and streets too, because only a small amount is needed. Once applied, it often only needs to be sprinkled after many hours. Salt is usually used proactively. This is how the snow melts when it hits the surface. Smoothness cannot therefore arise in the first place. Freeze can also be prevented by using road salt. This can occur especially in the transition period between autumn and winter and winter and spring. This is often referred to as lightning ice. The condensation freezes on the road or sidewalk and creates an invisible and particularly smooth surface. In recent years, road salt has come under increasing criticism. Because excessive use can lead to compaction and siltation of the soil. Animals can also burn their sensitive paws on soil with too high a salt content. Chlorides are often also used in road salt. These can get into the groundwater and pollute it.

Alternative gritting agents are still in their infancy

Salt is still the ultimate gritting agent, especially on country roads and motorways. This is mainly due to the fact that there are hardly any better alternatives. Calcium and potassium chloride have a very good dew effect and, unlike salt, can also be used at even lower temperatures. However, the use is no better in terms of environmental protection. The impact on vehicle bodywork is even worse. Alternatively, urea-based gritting agents were repeatedly tested in tests. However, these can quickly over-fertilize the surrounding soil. This nitrogen fertilizer can also get into the groundwater and cause worse damage than road salt. The use of a by-product of sugar production could be promising. The sodium chloride is replaced with molasses. However, this grit cannot be used without problems for the environment. Because the molasses binds oxygen in water bodies and, in the worst case, can cause them to overturn. In addition, the spreading agent is significantly more expensive than salt and is less suitable for large-scale use.

Preventing slippery conditions: When the snow shovel is effective

Before grit can be applied, the snow must be removed mechanically. The classic snow shovel is usually used on the sidewalk in front of the house or in your own driveway. Snow blowers or vehicles with snow blades are usually used for larger parking areas or industrial areas. The clearing vehicles are also in constant use on public roads as soon as snowflakes fall from the sky. The snow should be removed as early as possible. Because walking or driving on the ground compacts it. Then the snow becomes more difficult to remove and the risk of slippery conditions and corresponding accidents increases. In addition, the use of grit can be reduced by removing snow regularly and in a timely manner. This in turn protects the environment and of course also the public and private budget. Especially in private areas, the use of grit is often no longer necessary if the snow is completely removed from the ground.

Environmentally friendly spreading in private areas

In winter, homeowners must ensure clear paths. This doesn’t just include the privately used driveway. The sidewalk in front of the house must also be cleared accordingly and kept free of ice. The Obligation to clear and scatter Incidentally, this also applies to property owners. If there is a sidewalk in front of a meadow, this usually also has to be cleared by the owner. If the duty to clear and scatter is neglected, claims for damages and compensation may arise in the event of a fall or accident. In order to avoid this expensive worst-case scenario, environmentally friendly gritting materials can be used in the private sector. Because you can easily avoid using salt on your own sidewalk or private driveway. Effectiveness can also be achieved using blunting grit such as granules, grit, sand or gravel. The use of salt-free grits is not only thanks to the environment, but also to your own pet. Cats and dogs often walk unnoticed along the salt-wet paths and incur injuries to their paws. Granules, grit and gravel can also be reused. On warmer days, the grit can be collected with a broom and shovel and stored in a bucket for future use. This can also save you money in the long term.

As much as necessary, as little as possible

No matter whether salt, sand or other gritting agents are used. It is important to find a balance between safety and environmental protection. There are often strict rules, especially for preventive use. In many places it is forbidden to use grit and road salt in private areas before slippery conditions or heavy snowfall. Caution is also required when disposing of grit. If gritting agents are no longer necessary for safety, they must be removed as quickly as possible. In many places, grit and gravel are not allowed to remain on the sidewalk until spring. Contaminated snow should also be handled carefully. If snow has mixed with salt, it should not be disposed of on green areas. Otherwise, chemical burns can occur on the plants and the lawn. As a rule, however, penalties are not to be expected. Education is often carried out here and the understanding of citizens is relied upon. However, fines can also be imposed for repeat offenders or particularly unreasonable people.

Reduce the risk of slipping instead of fighting slippery conditions

Environmentally friendly grit such as sand or grit cannot combat black ice. Rather, it’s about reducing the risk of slipping and making paths and streets accessible. However, caution is still advised. As soon as grit and sand are blown away by the wind, they need to be sprinkled again. In addition, the deceptive impression can arise that the anti-slip effect is still present. There is still no effective alternative to replace road salt. Nevertheless, its use in the private sector is increasingly being regulated in order to protect the environment and wildlife. However, private individuals are not exempt from the obligation to clear and scatter. It is therefore important to choose the right grit carefully and to think about it before the onset of winter.


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