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Autumn came around the corner quicker than we thought! With that in mind, it’s time to turn your thoughts to protecting you and your loved ones this winter. After the record-breaking heatwave of summer 2018, we’re prepping for stranger weather this winter…
One of the most important things keeping you safe during the colder months is the grit bin. Though they may often slip your mind, it’s important you learn about their importance, whether you can use them, and how to do so effectively.
A grit bin or salt bin is an item of street furniture, typically found in countries where snowfall and freezing temperatures are almost guaranteed. The grit bin holds a combination of salt and grit; this is spread over roads and pavements when they have snow or ice on them.
Grit bins are usually provided by the government or councils. However, not every road or area will have them readily available for public use. We’ll get into ‘grit bin allocation’ further on in this article.
If you don’t have a grit bin, you can buy your own from local trade stores, builders or similar. These suppliers are most likely to sell the grit too.
Grit bins provide us with a means to keep our roads, pavements, car parks (and more) safe and ice-free during the winter months. During the UK’s 2009/10 winter (also called The Big Freeze of 2010), we saw just how important grit bins are to our society.
We faced a persistent pattern of cold northerly and easterly winds that brought with them cold, moist air. This led to many snow showers, cold fronts and polar lows bringing the snowy weather with it.
“January 2010 was provisionally the coldest January since 1987 across the country. The most severe snowy weather began on 5 January in North West England and west Scotland with temperatures hitting a low of −17.6 °C (0.3 °F) in Greater Manchester, England.
The snow spread to Southern England on 6 January and by 7 January the United Kingdom was blanketed in snow, which was captured by NASA’s Terra satellite.”
This next part will take you through how to use grit bins if you’re confident that you have permission. First things first: you must know how grit works before you go sprinkling it all over the pavement or roads!
Salt causes “freezing point depression”, which lowers the temperature at which water freezes and re-freezes. This is extremely helpful in countries like the UK where temperatures drop but not massively.
We know that water freezes at 0°C and that salt prevents water from freezing until the temperature reaches -6°C to -8°C. (It becomes less effective after around -5°C.)
However, salt cannot melt the ice alone. It must be combined with water to start the initial melting process. Thankfully, ice and snow are generally covered with a thin film of water. This means that, as the salt touches this water, the dissolving process begins. Subsequently, the freezing point of the water and snow lowers and the ice melts.
Once a gritter has laid the salt, it requires cars and other vehicles to drive over it which will help to spread it further. This ensures the grit covers the road properly, helping to prevent lethal sections of the road caused by patches of ice or worse, black ice.
Interesting: When we have very heavy snow, it becomes difficult for any amount of grit to work properly due to the lack of vehicles on the road.
We get lots of people asking about their use, where to find them and more. That’s why we’ve provided the answers to many of these questions below.
As a general rule, yes you can take grit from grit bins assuming that you are using the grit to treat local roads and pavements. Most councils place yellow grit bins around their towns so that, if a gritter cannot clear your road, you can safely do so yourself.
However, no, you cannot take grit from grit bins if you’re using it on private property such as driveways. There are other uses which aren’t allowed, often classed as anti-social behaviour. This kind of behaviour includes selling it on to make a profit.
This also answers the question, “Are grit bins for public use?” – It completely depends on what you’re wanting to use it for. If you want to use the grit bin for use on the roads and pavement, improving public safety, yes. Oppositely, if you’re using it to help melt the ice for your driveway, sadly not.
Your local council should provide information of where their grit bins are located, but unfortunately, this isn’t always in a consistent format and can vary considerably between councils across the country.
In the best examples, councils will provide interactive maps to show where their grit bins are located, whilst others do not provide such a service.
As a general rule, you’ll find grit bins on roads and streets which…
a) don’t fit into the usual gritting truck routes but
b) would benefit from public-led treatment when conditions make it necessary.
To find out exactly, you can visit your county’s government site. Once here you’ll be able to either download an alphabetical list of the roads they grit or see their gritting route map. For example, Broxap’s head office is in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and you can view this list here.
We’ve previously mentioned that grit bins are ideal for helping to reduce ice on roads, pavements, car parks and similar, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the council does this. In some cases, they will. In the case of gritting pavements, it’s usually in very severe weather conditions such as when we’ve had snow or ice for several days.
Whether the council grits your pavements is also down to your area. If you live in a small town or county, there are fewer roads or pavements to grit and so, the task is more “do-able”.
Yet, for a big county like Sandwell which has around 900 miles of pavements (the distance from Sandwell to Paris and back) it’s simply not possible to grit every pavement.
Most councils will complete regular checks, especially during the winter months to make sure that the grit bins are fully stocked for use.
However, you can request a grit bin refil by visiting your council website and reporting it. Again, for Staffordshire, you can report your empty grit bin using this link.
Unfortunately, there are times when grit bins become a nuisance for residents due to them attracting anti-social behaviour. If you find that this behaviour is becoming a significant problem, you can, in fact, put a request to have the bin removed. Whether or not it will be removed depends on agreement from other residents in the area.
Unfortunately, you cannot request to have an ‘official’ grit bin installed. Councils fully analyse your location against various criteria. Many local authorities will require a location to meet one or more of the following in order for it to qualify for a grit bin:
If you wish to clear your driveway or footpaths, you can purchase grit salt from local building suppliers and DIY stores. Or, as an alternative, you can use table salt or dishwasher salt.
Table salt is actually known to be better at melting ice in the first place, but also poor at preventing snow and ice from re-freezing. This is because table salt has finer granules compared to rock salt and therefore it has a larger surface area. This enables it to melt the ice faster as at any given time, more of it will be in contact with more ice particles than rock salt.
However, because the table salt is so small, it doesn’t leave any residue after the melting has ended. This leads to re-freezing. On the other hand, rock salt leaves a residue once melted and thus prevents refreezing.
Tip: If you’re using table salt, you’ll only want to use it in small areas like a private drive or pathway. Before you apply it you’ll need to shovel the snow and ice to reduce the amount of salt you need to use. This will also reduce potential harm to plants, animals and concrete from excess salt.
Hopefully, you’ll now understand a little more about grit bins and their vital part in maintaining safety during the winter frost. It’s clear that they’re key to keeping our roads safe, schools and businesses open and our entire society functioning smoothly.
Be prepared! Make sure you know where yours is or whether you need to source your own salt before the dreaded winter colds come by.