Anyone who fought their way through the snow chaos in Bavaria in the last few days couldn’t help but see at least one walker slip. The winter clearance services were barely able to keep up with the masses of snow; now the ice has melted on its own. What remains is road salt that harms the environment. An innovative alternative has been available in Bavaria for a few years now – cucumber water. But you should also generally avoid salts altogether if possible. However, according to the Federal Environment Agency, more than four million tonnes end up on our streets and pedestrian paths in harsh winters.

Road salt consists mainly of sodium chloride – that is normal table salt -, calcium or magnesium chloride. The salt reduces the freezing point and thus the ice on the paths or prevents it from forming at all. However, it is ineffective at temperatures below minus 20 degrees, and the same applies to continuous snowfall.

The road salt flows into the canal system or reaches rivers, streams, lakes and groundwater via meltwater and puts a strain on the ecosystem. The salt can burn plants on the side of the road. Seeping road salt can accumulate in roadside soils for many years. The damage may be delayed for years. If the salt content is too high, important nutrients are washed out, it becomes more difficult for plants and trees to absorb nutrients and water, and they become more susceptible to diseases or dry out. In dogs, cats or other animals, the salt can get stuck in the paws and cause inflammation. The salts also attack vehicles and structures – this is particularly problematic in the case of monuments or corrosion damage to bridges.

Property owners must ensure that sidewalks are cleared and there is a high risk of liability in the event of accidents. The basis is §823 of the Civil Code (BGB). For many people, salting the sidewalk is therefore out of the question. Only: In many communities, the private use of road salt is prohibited – with the exception of stairs or similarly critical areas. Anyone who violates this must expect fines. However, there is no uniform regulation at federal and state level. BUND Nature Conservation criticizes the fact that hardware stores continue to sell road salt.

In Bavaria there is a pilot project run by the Bavarian State Building Administration and the Develey company in Dingolfing, Lower Bavaria. The company has been using salt water from cucumber production since 2019 and makes it available for winter service.

The brine that is created during the production of pickles is actually disposed of. By the way, this is wastewater – and explicitly not the sour cucumber water in the glass. Nobody has to worry about the smell on the streets either. So that the salt can be used for winter service, it is cleaned and processed into brine. To this end, the road maintenance department in Dingolfing will increase the concentration from 7 to 21 percent and use it in surrounding districts.

In this way, the company does not have to laboriously dispose of its salt water and, thanks to the more environmentally friendly brine, less salt ends up in nature. This saves 90 tons of salt per 1,000 tons of brine used. By using cucumber water, up to 180 tons of road salt and almost a million liters of water can be saved every year.

The only problem is that this is still salt. And the brine from the cucumber water also pollutes the environment.

Another method has been found in the USA. Here, too, there is salt in the mix, but beet syrup is particularly popular in the north. For example, in Washington D.C. or in Canada, beet juice is sometimes combined with salt.

According to the Washington Post, the mixture consists of 23 percent salt, 62 percent water and 15 percent beet syrup. And it is said to be at least as effective as the much better known road salt. The method was discovered by a Hungarian scientist in the 1990s. In recent years they have discovered more and more cities for themselves. Because the mixture is so sticky, it stays on the road longer and, unlike road salt, works even at very low temperatures.

But the beet syrup could also be harmful to insects – but it is probably still more environmentally friendly than pure road salt.

Instead of salting, BUND Nature Conservation or NABU recommend so-called blunting agents, i.e. grit, chips or sand. This doesn’t melt the ice, but it does make it less slippery. But it takes a lot, according to the Federal Environment Agency, around 100 grams per square meter. And that’s why the energy requirement for blunting agents could be higher than for road salt. “The effort for collecting and, if necessary, cleaning at the end of the season must also be taken into account in the energy balance,” says the Federal Environment Agency.

Anyone who buys litter products should look for the “Blue Angel” environmental label, as it does not contain any salts.

And if you want to remain completely environmentally friendly, you have to grab the snow shovel as early as possible.

Sources: Develey, Federal Environment Agency, BUND Nature Conservation