A low-salt winter diet

The snowfall on Nov. 13-14 sent many of us looking for shovels and mittens. And salt for our sidewalks.

Did you know that the salt you sprinkle on your drive also salts Lake Winnebago and Green Bay?

Salt works great for deicing. Sodium and chloride ions interfere with water becoming ice by lowering the temperature at which it forms. However, salt runoff pollutes waterways, streams and rivers and settles to the bottom. A salt layer in a lake works like salt in a garden, killing plants and driving off insects.

The Clear Lakes Alliance, based in Madison, notes that just one teaspoon of salt can pollute five gallons. The Alliance adds that “salt usage in Wisconsin tops more than 525,000 tons every year. That’s enough to pollute more than 400 billion gallons of water.”

Such facts are disturbing. Yet we must remove ice for safety, so this is not about banning salt on roads, planes or sidewalks. We need salt, but we also need to support new ways of melting ice. One, already in use along I-41, is grooves cut into the pavement to prevent ice sheets from forming.

Another path many municipalities have explored is brine, which uses a quarter of the sodium chloride. Additionally, brine stays on roads. According to Wisconsin Salt Wise partnership, up to 30% of road salt blows or bounces off road or is dragged away by car and truck tires.

While it’s a large part of the problem, road salt is not the only deicer adding salt to our fresh water. We also contribute.

With the first snowfall, I also went searching for sidewalk salt. Over the years, I’ve learned to use “pet friendly salt,” made without chloride. However, I can’t always find it and I don’t want delivery people falling on my steps. So I do use rock salt, but I try to use less. Turns out, that’s a good idea.

Wisconsin Salt Wise offers these tips for the next snowfall:

  • Shovel: Clear walkways before snow turns to ice. When snow is removed earlier, less salt is needed later.
  • Scatter: When using salt, scatter it widely. Just 12 ounces of salt is enough for 10 feet of sidewalk. Keep grains wide spaced. No clumps.
  • Switch: When temperatures drop below 15 degrees, salt doesn’t work. Switch to sand for traction.
  • To these, I’d add another: reuse. We’ve all seen leftover salt littering pavement. It isn’t just frugal to sweep this up and put it back in your salt bucket. It also means less salt on doggie paws and running into storm sewers.

Why mention all this in a Catholic newspaper?

In May, Pope Francis launched a plan based on his environmental encyclical Laudato si’ (2015). The Laudato si’ Action Platform is “a seven-year journey that will see our communities … becoming totally sustainable, in the spirit of integral ecology,” the pope said in a video message May 25. “We need a new ecological approach that can transform our way of dwelling in the world…”

The action platform is coordinated by the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development and focuses on seven sectors — families, parishes, schools, hospitals, businesses, organizations and religious orders. There are seven goals: responses to “the cry of the earth” and “the cry of the poor,” ecological economics, simplified lifestyles, ecological education, ecological spirituality and community involvement.

Learning about road salt is environmental education. Laudato si’ said, “Whereas, in the beginning, (environmental education) was mainly centered on scientific information, … It seeks also to restore the various levels of ecological equilibrium, establishing harmony within ourselves, with others, with nature and other living creatures and with God” (n. 210).

Less salt helps nature. Explore a low-salt deicing diet for your household as environmental education and environmental spirituality. It’s like choosing a sweater instead of turning up the furnace. The pope said such actions show “the kind of convictions and attitudes which help to protect the environment. There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions” (n. 211).