Timely Tips for Winter

Waste-Free Wrapping

It is estimated that between Thanksgiving and the New Year, an extra million tons of waste (an average of 25% more) are generated nationwide each week. In fact, 38,000 miles of ribbon alone is thrown out each year – enough to tie a bow around the Earth! Most wrapping paper cannot be recycled in our area due to the metallic dyes used in making it. Here are some tips for more environmentally-friendly gift wrap.

Breaking the “gift-wrap” habit isn’t easy. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Use a paper grocery bag or department store bag. Decorate the bag with rubber stamps, paint, stickers, or any other “scrap” material.
  • Decorate brown craft paper with pretty bows or other embellishments. Brown paper can be recycled or can be saved and re-used next year.
  • Purchase sturdier gift bags (or save the ones that you receive) that can be used again for another gift. Wrap items in a reusable canvas sack that can later be used as a shopping bag.
  • For large, hard to wrap gifts, just add a large fancy bow.
  • Hide a large, hard-to-wrap gift somewhere in the house or yard, and give the person a card with a clue to lead them to the present.
  • Save those gift boxes and use them again. Many gift boxes fold down and take little room to store in a closet or cabinet.
  • Small gifts can be put in a stocking without being wrapped. The stockings can be used year after year.
  • Wrap gifts in the funny pages, old posters, or newspaper. Be creative; newspaper stories covering the package might give a clue as to the gift found inside.
  • If you use store-bought wrapping paper, buy paper with recycled content.
  • When unwrapping gifts, collect the reusable ribbons, bows, and other package
  • decorations.
  • Give gift certificates, event tickets, or a charitable donation-no gift wrap required.
  • When you go shopping, bring your own reusable bags.
  • When making purchases, purchase items made with recycled content.
  • Make gift tags from last year’s holiday cards.
  • Give a gift in a gift. Examples: Hot cocoa or coffee in a re-usable mug, toiletry items wrapped in a re-usable basket, gardening tools in a bucket or flower pot.
  • Instead of bows, embellish packages with dried flowers, pine cones, or leaves from your own yard.
  • Reuse the plastic packing peanuts you receive in shipped packages. Many mailing/shipping service
  • centers will accept these for reuse.

Dealing with De-Icers – Consider Chemical Alternatives

When winter strikes, homeowners use a variety of chemicals on icy sidewalks and driveways to make them safe. Salt and sand are often the tools of choice because they are cheap and readily available. Unfortunately, while these products do help the current situation, they aren’t good for the environment; or even for our cars and pavement. Melting runoff containing de-icing products have a deteriorating effect on soil and water quality. Before heading outside, here are a few thing you might want to consider.

Chemicals applied on impervious surfaces run off into our streams and waterways.

Salt products naturally lower the freezing temperature of water, but do have some corrosive properties. The adverse effects of salt on the environment have also been well-documented. Road salt, the most commonly used deicing agent, can seep into the ground, affecting soil salinity, groundwater resources, and waterways, which in turn negatively impact vegetation and wildlife. The most commonly used salts for deicing are sodium chloride (NaCl) and calcium chloride (CaCl). High concentrations of salt change the soil’s composition and nutrient availability, making it detrimental to most plants. Salt also freely dissolves in runoff water and easily contaminates local groundwater and streams. Roads, bridges, driveways, and automobiles are also subject to the corrosive effects of salt.

As snow and ice melts, sand can runoff the surface and into nearby bodies of water, creating sedimentation problems for aquatic life. Sand can also absorb oil, grease and other pollutants which are then released into streams and rivers.

Fortunately, sand and salt are not the only weapons with which to battle the icy weather. The best option would be to physically or mechanically remove ice or snow, using a shovel, plow, scraper, etc. If you must use de-icing salt, sodium chloride is the cheapest and most effective. Mix it with sand to minimize how much you use. Experts recommend applying de-icing compounds before the storm even begins. This pre-treatment technique is referred to as anti-icing. It takes much less chemical to prevent ice from forming than to remove ice once it has formed. Avoid the temptation to overuse chemicals, believing if some is good then more is better! Remember, de-icers act through a chemical process which takes place over time. It is not an instantaneous reaction; allow time before applying more chemicals to a treated area.

Alternatives to sand and salt are becoming more available at retail stores. These alternatives will still have an impact on the surrounding environment and must be applied properly, but might have a smaller impact than traditional deicing compounds. The cost of these products is much higher than traditional compounds, but they do have some advantages, primarily in reduced corrosive effects on cars and pavements.


  • Use alternatives to sand or salt, like CMAs
  • Use less chemical-follow instructions on the label and don’t over-apply


  • Use physical or mechanical means (shovel, plow, scraper) to remove snow and ice

While use of more traditional methods might be the only option for road maintenance crews, many homeowners and business owners have the ability to use suggested alternatives. Consider your options and remember that any substance is applied to impervious surfaces like driveways and sidewalks have the potential to into storm drains or streams.

There are dozens of ice melting products on the market. The active ingredient used in ice melt is usually a combination of one or more of the following ingredients:

  • Sodium chloride (rock salt): This is the most commonly used product; does not melt ice below 20 degrees. This product is corrosive and can damage lawns, trees and shrubs.
  • Calcium chloride: This liquid is converted into pellets by removing the water. It can quickly absorb moisture from the atmosphere so it can work at extremely low temperatures, down to -25 degrees. The cost is generally higher for an ice melt that contains calcium chloride. Calcium chloride can also damage nearby lawns and other vegetation.
  • Magnesium chloride: This is similar to calcium chloride. It is considered less corrosive, safer for use on concrete and less damaging to plants.
  • Potassium chloride and urea: These are chemicals commonly found in fertilizer, but that does not mean they are safe around vegetation. At high concentrates these chemicals are harmful to plants and contribute to the nutrient pollution of our waterways . Since urea does not contain chlorides it is less corrosive.
  • Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA): Not as corrosive as salt, but, as with all other chemicals, can still have an adverse effect on water quality.

Ice melting products may also contain sand or clay additive to help with traction.

Contact Us

Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District

Henricopolis SWCD
8600 Dixon Powers Drive
Henrico, VA 23228

Charles Lively
Lindy Durham
Stacey Heflin


Henricopolis SWCD
P.O. Box 90775
Henrico, VA 23273