Snow & pollution – winter gritting

Snow Dublin Georgian Door
Snow in Dublin

We all get excited about a little bit of snow (especially in Ireland where this is so rare) and probably find it amusing that people sometimes assume all of Europe will be covered by a blanket of snow over the winter months. But all this white loveliness isn’t entirely pretty. Have you ever thought about the sheer quantities of salt used for winter gritting to keep roads clear?

This is not to be a spoil-sport, I fully intend to enjoy any snowfall (especially if it happens to be on a day off work), wandering around town taking pictures, having a snowball fight, making angels in the snow and why not build a snowman? On the flipside it’s logistically tricky: A few years back when we had a winter with a lot of snow footpaths were lethal, roads icy, flights grounded, and any non-necessary journeys best avoided. Although everything just looked so much prettier than in areas with road gritting where the white loveliness just turns into horrible brownish slush that seems to seep through even the sturdiest boots.

Trying to understand what the most sustainable option would be I can’t help but conclude that the ole’ shovel and spade action seems to be best (not very popular though).


There is the pro salt and the against salt camp: Salt may damage or even killl trees or other vegetation by disturbing water retention. It may damage cars when driving through the blackish slush, and it won’t be very nice for our four-legged friends and their unprotected paws. None of this desirable and also very ugly looking (there goes the fairy tale whiteness).

No saltDublin, Ireland, snow, Georgian Dublin, sculpture

There are other options of course: Sand, grit, ash, or sawdust. Maybe this isn’t a viable option for road gritting but may be suited for clearing one’s own footpath. The obvious issue is clearing all the ugly looking grit once winter is over (not nice to walk on either) and of course all this grit may well clog up our canalisation system. There are some options of light granules that wouldn’t cause any blockage as they will float on top of water however this seems quite exotic and not readily available – which I think is key.

Personally, I would have always gravitated to the no salt option but as far as I know all city councils use salt on main roads. So what’s the point of responsible citizens trying to avoid salt whereas it’s widely used for roads? I do notice though that in most public places, such as train stations, shopping areas etc small grit is used. I’m puzzled. I really can’t say if the no salt camp is driven by producers of special grit.


Back to the shovel so. There is no magic solution, best is always to clear any footpaths (yes, using elbow grease and a shovel) and then use either salt or grit. I think sand is best but this is my choice. It means also to distribute only a little and evenly. Not like what we saw in the last bad snow on Grafton Street where rather uneven amounts (or mounds) of grit where thrown on top of ice – effectiveness: zero. Salt won’t magically melt away thick ice… ‘Preventative’ gritting doesn’t work either, once snowed over, the effect is gone.

Snow, Dublin, Ireland, park benchI will just stick to my sand/grit, whichever I have to hand the odd time it does snow (for which we will always be ill prepared). Ash being a good option as we’re likely to use the fireplace anyway when it’s that cold. I will do my best to keep footpaths around my door clear, still vividly remembering a scene from the last snowfall: An older man who held a bag of hot chips in on hand, clinging onto the last set of metal railings with his other hand, afraid to move forward where there was nothing to hold onto anymore. I don’t want to see this again or have somebody fall outside my front garden and break their leg or hip.