The winter of 2009-2010 has been treacherous in terms of sidewalk ice in Minnesota. December rain initiated the slickest sidewalks in memory which was followed by periods of melt...snow...melt plus more icing. For a household trying to be earth sensitive, the options for deicing and sanding do not meet the grade.
To some degree, all deicing salts have impacts to pets, plants, concrete and even more alarming, on watersheds. Salinity of urban waterways are of increasing concern, so much so that the City of Saint Paul has just decided that deicing salts will no longer be used on city side streets (intersections and grades excepted). The commonly used sand isn't without issues either. Sand has small enough particles that it washes from our driveways, streets and sidewalks directly into rivers via city storm sewers.
How to avoid these eco-pitfalls? Timely shoveling is really the ounce of prevention. Try to be aware of what precipitation is coming your way and make the effort to move it off and treat right away. Also, make sure you have access to a good chopper. Ice choppers are a necessary tool in the battle of slick sidewalks.
Still slick? Try CHICKEN GRIT for good traction (pictured above)! Grit is generally too heavy to wash into storm water systems. Further, the little bits of angular granite that chickens use to break down food in their crops are great for biting into icy surfaces. Finally, once the snow and ice are gone, you can sweep up your grit and save it for the next season. Chicken grit can be found at farm stores.
As a last resort, reach for the deicing chemicals, only after implementing timely shoveling, ice chopping and grit. But, know your salt because not all deicing salts are equally damaging and different salts work at different temperatures. For example, in extreme cold, calcium chloride is the only product that will work and using any other product is not effective. However, under most circumstances, grit and elbow grease will suffice.