As winter approaches, many people stock up on salt to de-ice their driveway and walkways. But the some 11 million tons of salt used on roads and walkways every year in the United States takes its toll on the planet. The salt ends up in groundwater every spring, and animals looking to lap up the salt that builds up along roadways often end up roadkill. There is, however, an alternative that many people usually throw out or compost: Fireplace ash.
While wood-burning fireplaces produce toxic emissions, EPA-certified wood stoves (including fireplace inserts) burn cleaner than the average wood fireplace, making them better for human health and the environment. Though gas may burn cleaner, wood-burning fireplaces are a fixture in many homes. They provide warmth and comfort, and many people build a fire daily in the winter -- which means there's a lot of ash to deal with.
A generous sprinkle of ash on any icy patches on your driveway, walkway or sidewalk will provide traction for anyone walking across the ice, and there's no harm to the environment. In the spring, the ash dries up and wind blows it on to lawns an gardens, where it helps fertilize the soil.
Be sure to store ash in a lidded metal bin or garbage can, as ash that hasn't cooled enough can re-ignite and cause a fire if stored in a plastic bin.