Should we stop treating snow as waste?

Should we stop treating snow as waste?

Montreal spends several million dollars each year to remove snow from public roads. This freshly collected snow is then sent to one of the city's snow dumps, where it is buried out of sight. Considering that approximately seven million cubic meters of snow are cleared each year, wouldn't it be time to look into the possibility of treating snow as a resource rather than a waste? That's the belief of architect and professor at UQAM's School of Design, Patrick Evans.

As he mentions in his children's book Where does the snow go? , the City works with waste treatment engineers to manage snow removal and landfill operations. Obviously, the snow must be treated since it contains “traces of heavy metals and other toxins” due to automobile pollution. It is nevertheless an expert choice that betrays a paradigm that could change, argues Mr. Evans.

“This idea that we inhabit a northern territory but that we are not interested in snow and its potential, as much architectural as urban and energy, it is a gap that must be resolved.

Patrick Evans, architect and professor at the UQAM School of Design

Using snow for its intrinsic virtues, especially its coldness, would not be a really new practice in Montreal. “Montreal has stored ice from the St. Lawrence in silos downtown for a hundred years. We used it to cool our meat,” says Mr. Evans.

White gold?

The professor, who works in UQAM's N360 Nordic design laboratory, describes that to find ideas, he “compares to other Nordic cities to see what can be done in terms of design and urban planning”.

There is no shortage of original uses in the world. For example, a hospital in Sundsvall, Sweden, has been “cooled since 2004 with snow that they store,” says Patrick Evans. Interreg Europe, a research group co-founded by the European Union, reports that the hospital's electricity consumption has dropped by 90% since the implementation of the new cooling method.

Interesting, especially when you think that the need for cooling is likely to become an increasingly important factor in our energy consumption.

We recently had a energy consumption record this winter, but soon, our highest energy consumption days will be in August.

Patrick Evans, architect and professor at the UQAM School of Design

Sundsvall is not an isolated case. Oslo airport has also implemented a similar method and server centers in Japan also use snow to regulate their temperature.

To manage to conserve winter snow, Patrick Evans describes that 'it can be isolated by applying 'wood residues' to it. We can then get that cold in the hot seasons,” he continues.

Useful but also beautiful

In addition to the energy use that snow can provide, we must not ignore its potentially aesthetic side. “It doesn’t have to be black slush,” Mr. Evans believes. For example, “the winter garden on the roof of the Bonaventure Hotel is the most magnificent winter garden you can imagine”. What makes the place magical is that “they leave the snow in place”.

The professor and architect thus believes that we can think about our relationship with snow before we even think to transform it. “If treated intelligently, it can be part of the winter landscape,” he says. There is a possibility of leaving a quantity of snow in certain places.

Also in Sweden, in a village, “some streets are half cleared of snow and people can travel on that part on toboggan or on skis”, quotes Mr. Evans.

Obviously, stop clearing the halves of each street in the metropolis may seem unrealistic, but the idea would rather be to try it locally, in the same way “you can have pedestrian streets in the summer, believes the expert. It takes pilot projects.”

According to him, this change in relationship to snow could also generate savings, with fewer resources earmarked for snow removal being mobilized by the public administration.

A real social issue

< p>In addition to saving energy, reviewing our relationship with snow would make it possible to solve the social problems experienced by citizens living near snow dumps. The largest of them, the Francon quarry, in Saint-Michel, is a good illustration of the underestimated ethical cost of snow removal operations.

Should- we stop treating snow as waste?

The Francon Quarry Photo: Courtesy, Facebook Francon Quarry: Heart of Our Neighborhood

While often simultaneously heading towards this quarry, a large number of snow removal trucks generate traffic and generate greenhouse gases. Being often “stopped for a long time at red lights” on the roads leading to the quarry, the pollutants expelled by these heavy vehicles particularly affect those who live in the area.

“Children must divert the quarry more often than not. a kilometer long, they walk more than an hour to go to school. With two hundred trucks per hour, it's unacceptable,” thunders Patrick Evans.

“We have to stop sending our problems elsewhere and act as if they never existed,” ends the teacher. .

Recall that the problem of the Saint-Michel quarry made the news in 2018, when Montreal wanted to add a recycling center, which would have aggravated the problem, according to residents. The project was cancelled, but the negative effects of snow removal are still being felt in this neighborhood. The organization Vivre Saint-Michel en santé is also proposing to revisit the use of the quarry “to make it a world-class model of social and environmental innovation”.

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