We are pleased that the City of Milwaukee is minimizing salt use this year both for the sake of the environment and to save money! You may have noticed that salting has been reduced on residential streets, and that salt is being mixed with sand on main streets to reduce salt usage, which is estimated at 1,200 tons per snow event. According to this Smithsonian article, more than 22 million tons of salt are scattered on the roads of the U.S. annually—about 137 pounds of salt for every American. Past reports have shown that Milwaukee County uses 8 times more salt on average than the rest of the State.

All that salt has to go somewhere. After it dissolves, it infiltrates our ground water or gets carried away via runoff and deposited into our streams, lakes and rivers. Chloride is toxic to aquatic life and impacts vegetation and wildlife. We find that many of our smaller creeks regularly exceed what are considered “safe” levels of chloride for fish. There is no natural process by which chloride ions are broken down or removed from the environment. Read more about how we became addicted to salt and the hidden costs of here.

Although safety is of utmost importance to all of us, here are a few tips for reducing or eliminating the use of deicers at your home:

  • Shovel first! Clear snow as quick as possible before it turns to ice.
  • Salt does not work if temperatures are below 15 degrees F. If you are applying it at lower temps, you are wasting your money. Calcium chloride works to temps below -20 degrees F,but is more expensive. Calcium magnesium acetate (or CMA) is more expensive yet, but much less toxic.
  • Only use deicers in critical areas and apply the least amount necessary to ensure safety.
  • After application of a deicer, sweep any unused material and store for later use.
  • Store deicing materials in a dry, covered area to prevent runoff.
  • Add sand to reduce salt use and create a mix with instant traction (use sparingly to avoid clogging storm drains). Bird seed, ash, and other products can also be used to add traction in a more environmentally friendly way.
  • If your source of drinking water is from your own private well, avoid applying salt near the wellhead.