Snowy, icy roads are a fact of life during winter in most northern states. Along with plows, rock salt is used to keep roads clear. But while it's effective at melting ice, rock salt comes with a few environmental drawbacks. According to the EPA, salt can contaminate wells and reservoirs used for drinking water and can negatively impact wildlife that lives in streams. Additionally, rock salt can lead to erosion issues along roadsides.
That said, cities need to keep roads clear for safety reasons. In the past, some cities have experimented with alternatives to rock salt, including sand, beet juice and even a molasses-like product. A new experiment uses cheese brine, a by-product of cheese making that is generally thrown away. Bay View, a neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wis., is testing out the cheese brine this winter — a plan that seems appropriate in a state famous for its cheese.
To melt ice, the cheese brine is added to rock salt and spread on roads. The cheese brine comes with a number of benefits, The New York Times reports. It freezes at a lower temperature than typical salt brine, it sticks to roadways better, and it saves money, the Times explains. The pilot project in Bay View aims to find out if there are any potential problems with using the cheese brine, such as an odor or an increase in the number of rodents near streets.
How does using cheese brine save money? Cheese makers donate the brine, which is typically sent to local waste treatment facilities. This arrangement allows the cheese makers to avoid fees associated with hauling away the waste, and the city government doesn’t need to spend as much money on rock salt as it otherwise would.
If the program proves successful, it will be a win-win-win — saving money, helping reduce waste and preventing environmental damage related to rock salt, all at the same time.