Snow removal without harming the climate? What there is to know
Between the snowblower, the car shelter, the snow removal company or the good plastic shovel, what is the best way more ecological to clear snow from your driveway or sidewalk? The Rumor Detector clears the way.
As soon as a snowstorm hits Quebec, the purr of snowblowers can be heard. However, these machines that run on oil are little climatic bombs. According to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, whose mission is to improve air quality in this western United States state, using a household gas-powered blower for one hour generates as much pollution as driving a car for 500 km!
A significant issue, as 25 % of Canadian households in 2019 reported that they used a snowblower and, in 91 % of cases, it was a gas-powered model, according to the Survey of Households and the Environment from Statistics Canada.
The challenge is that the engine of these machines is not equipped with an effective anti-pollution system, unlike recent cars. Pollution that not only contributes to global warming, but also poisons users with carbon monoxide and fine particles rich in carcinogenic PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), says a 2021 document from the French INRS.
There is, however, an alternative that is growing in popularity: the electric snowblower, with battery or corded models. Over time, its power has increased and the use of lithium batteries, as in cars, gives it greater autonomy.
In Rona and Réno-Dépôt banner stores, snowblowers electric now make up more than 65% of supply. “ We are increasing it year after year to meet consumer demand ”, explains Mathieu Villemaire, director of marketing at Lowe's Canada, which includes the Lowe's, RONA and Réno-Dépôt brands.
But clearing snow requires good physical effort. For this reason, many owners prefer to do business with a snow removal company. However, the problem with snow plows is that they use heavy equipment most of the time, which consumes more than 30 liters of gasoline per hour.
The consulting engineering firm LCL Environnement has estimated the environmental impact of this method of snow removal (see table below). The result per winter for a parking lot with 2 to 4 spaces: 120 kg of CO2 equivalent in the Montreal region and 160 kg of CO2 eq. CO2 for the Quebec region, which receives 120 cm more snow each winter.
An option to replace professional snow removers: hire the little neighbors who clear with shovels. Ecological advantage, and opportunity to develop their financial autonomy.
Car shelters, which are commonly referred to as “Tempo shelters”, are also a more ecological solution than any snow removal using gas-powered machines, because their steel structure and canvas last several years. According to Richard Boisclair, President and CEO of Tempo shelters, a tarp easily lasts 10 to 15 years with good maintenance and proper installation. As for the metal structure, it may outlive you.
However, the integration of recycled materials into polyethylene fabrics is still pending. Richard Boisclair would like to do better, but it's a question of sustainability. “The lifespan of fabrics incorporating recycled materials is much shorter, by 20 to 35%. The ecological advantage is not there yet”, he argues.
At the end of their life, the fabrics end up in waste. Recyc-Québec confirms that there are no specific outlets for this material. Richard Boisclair asserts, however, that they acquire a second life on construction sites, where they are highly sought after, in particular to protect fresh concrete from bad weather.
Nothing better than a shovel
The most ecological option remains manual shoveling. And it is possible to further limit its carbon impact by shoveling with a recycled plastic snow tool. A study by the International Reference Center for Life Cycle Analysis and Sustainable Transition, or CIRAIG (not available online) was conducted in collaboration with the Quebec manufacturer of gardening tools Garant: it concludes that a Recycled plastic shovel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 9% compared to shovels made from virgin material.
How do you recognize a recycled plastic shovel at a glance? Its color will be black or dark, because it is impossible to give a bright color to recycled plastic, explains a representative of EraGroup, a Montreal manufacturer of snow shovels.
What about ice?
Chemicals, such as sodium chloride and calcium chloride, are popular for de-icing traffic lanes. But they are not very ecological solutions, since they damage the vegetation, the concrete and its metal reinforcement. Ecologists will favor sand and gravel, natural materials, but which must nevertheless be excavated. The best solution, recommended by Frédéric Bouchard, engineer and president of Second Cycle, a company specializing in the circular economy, is to place recycled rubber mats on the pedestrian paths.
“ When the ice gets in there, just shake the mat and you're done”, he says. These floor coverings, which have a long lifespan, also contribute to solving the problem of the management of the used tires from which they are produced. Enough to kill two birds with one stone!