All basic ice melters rely on one simple ingredient that sounds perfectly benign in a "pass the salt, honey" kind of way, but isn't so welcome by those who know the effects of road salt runoff on fresh water. All that salt can and does make groundwater undrinkable and is bad news for the freshwater fish that have to swim it in. I don't care how Canadian the salt itself is, it ain't green. And it loses its efficacy below -15°C. $3.50/10 kg.
PERFECTLY NATURAL ECO ICE MELTER
Sounds like the greenest thing since Al Gore, but this product, also called Alaskan Natural Ice Melter, is just basic rock salt blended with potassium chloride (see Groundworks) and a little limestone for traction. They say it's safer for kids and pets and won't harm vegetation because there's less salt in it, but better than pure salt? Not by much. $8/5 kg at Home Depot, Lowe's.
SIFTO SAFE STEP NATURE'S POWER
This one's a greener though less effective pick than Sifto's Enviro-Guard, which is mostly rock salt blended with other salts, a dash of urea (an eco no-no - see Alaskan Pet-Friendly) and silica. Nature's Power is still a salt, but it's 100 per cent magnesium chloride hexahydrate from Utah that's been shown in road tests to be less corrosive to concrete and plants than sodium chloride or calcium chloride. Both Nature's Power and Enviro-Guard still warn that they should be kept away from water and sewers. $13.99/22 lb at Canadian Tire.
This one's totally salt-free for a change and, yes, for the most part it's kind to dogs' paws and less corrosive than salt because it's made with urea (the melter) and mineral zeolite (which sucks up melted water). The big "but" here: urea converts to ammonia, and then to nitrates, which can be toxic to fish and create suffocating algae blooms downstream. Yeesh. $14.99/3.5 kg at Home Hardware.
It's got a mysterious propriety formula, but a call to the company finds them relatively transparent. Their "modified amide with glycol admixture" is actually a modified urea in a polypropylene glycol base. Lab tweaks seem to have eliminated urea's water-polluting effect (vouched for by New York state's Department of Environmental Conservation). As well, toxicological tests Walmart asked them to do prove the stuff isn't hazardous if swallowed. Now, this ain't a natural product and the PPG is fossil-fuel-derived, but it's pretty benign compared to propylene glycol. It may burn your grass, though. $16.99/3.72 kg at Pet Valu.
ORGANIC MELT ICE REMOVER
I used to give this one brownie points for cutting back on salt content by mixing in "beet juice." Well, turns out it's only 3 per cent sugar beet extract (watered down molasses) and 97 per cent salt, so CBC Marketplace and I gave it a greenwash award for misleading marketing. However, since the sugar brine does make it more effective in colder temps, Toronto's now using this stuff on certain roads. And when it's really frigid you can use less of it than you would salt. Use this stuff sparingly if you want to be greener - and keep pet paws away. $10.99/10 kg at Big Carrot.
GROUNDWORKS NATURAL ICE MELTER
This BC company's "fertilizer-based" ice melter is made "primarily" from potassium salts mined in Saskatchewan. Yes, potassium is a plant nutrient, but too much of a good thing can also damage plants (heard of fertilizer burn?) and waterways. Potassium melters are often considered poor performers at low temps, but these guys say their product has been third-party tested and is effective to -23°C. $15/22 lb at Home Hardware.
ECOTRACTION and GREEN GRIP
Both these brands consist of high-traction volcanic rock (zeolite), which gives an excellent slip-free surface, as does Natura's Traction Aid Green Grip. No need for a chemistry degree here - these are totally safe for kids, pets, lawns and gardens and can actually help protect your lawn from dog-pee burn. Just don't expect them to melt ice. That's not their job. Shovelling remains mandatory. $11.29/10 kg at Canadian Tire, Shoppers Drug Mart, Ecoexistence.
MONSTERS IN KIDS' CLOTHING
There's nothing cuter than children's clothing, except when it's laced with harmful compounds. In a report released a couple of weeks ago, A Little Story About The Monsters In Your Closet, Greenpeace International revealed the results of testing on 82 children's garments sold by big-name brands in 25 countries. Wearables from American Apparel, Disney, Gap, H&M, Adidas, Nike and Puma were found to contain, among other chemicals, hormone-disrupting nonylphenol ethoxylates and phthalates banned from children's toys. This report is the latest move in Greenpeace's Detox clothing campaign, which is pressuring manufacturers to clean up their act in factories and in finished products. To check out the full report, complete with pics of chem-laced kids' clothes, head to greenpeace.org.
FRANKENFISH 'N PIPELINE FIGHT
It's been a busy January for the good lawyers over at Ecojustice.
Last week, they filed a lawsuit against the feds on behalf of the Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society after Environment Canada gave the green light to plans to breed GMO salmon eggs in PEI - in an entirely closed-door process. The groups say the government broke its own laws by failing to assess the invasiveness of the frankenfish, putting wild salmon at risk.
It was Ecojustice's second high-profile legal action of the month. The other, on behalf of ForestEthics Advocacy, Living Oceans and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, is looking for a court order to prevent cabinet from relying on what the orgs say is a "flawed" report from a joint review panel that gave its thumbs-up to the Northern Gateway pipeline in December. With environmentalist voices increasingly locked out of decision-making at the federal level, the courts, say enviros, may be the only hope.