Greener lawn mowers

Gas-powered lawn mowers are sooo-oo-oo dirty.

How dirty are they?

  • So dirty, they can out-pollute a new car by ten.
  • So dirty, they (plus other garden tools) account for 5% of the nation’s total air pollution.
  • So dirty, they’ll expose you directly to levels of pollutants that can cause asthma attacks and raise the risk of cancer and other chronic disease.
How can a little engine create such a big mess?

It just goes to show you how far clean technology has come for cars and pickup trucks, creating ways to burn fuel completely, avoid evaporation, and control pollutants.

Old lawnmowers, on the other hand, pollute even when they aren’t running (evaporating gasoline). Two-stroke engines burn so inefficiently, as much as 25% of the gasoline is released, half-burned, in the exhaust. And with no other controls on exhaust, both two- and four-stroke engines release enough toxic pollution to raise cancer risk and damage lungs.

And that’s not even accounting for the estimated 17 million gallons of fuel spilled each year by people refueling their mowers.

New gas mowers became significantly cleaner when national standards were phased in completely in 2012 – but you’d still have to drive a new car about 150 miles to pollute as much as a newer gas mower. The technology is out there to make gas mowers even cleaner—but electric mowers have already solved a lot of the problem.

In the US, we’re still buying a few million gas mowers each year.

Is it time to retire your old mower? Here are our living green tips:

Recycle: Use up the gas, empty the oil, and you can recycle your old mower for metal.

Push it. Push it reel good. Consider the zero emissions option that will give you a workout: a push reel mower. Keep it well maintained, and it will do the job on smaller lawns.

Electric avenue? Electric mowers are easier to start, lighter, quieter and far cleaner than gas. Consider corded if you have a small lawn and an easily accessible outdoor power outlet. Battery-operated mowers are more convenient, but must be re-charged after about 45 minutes. Lithium-ion batteries offer the fastest re-charge time.

It’s a gas, gas, gas. If you have a big job to do, or run a landscaping business, you may need more power than electric mowers can offer. When it comes to burning fuel, propane is a cleaner option than gasoline.  And if you want to be as health and air-conscious as possible without giving up on a gas mower, look for one made after 2012. Coming soon: A team of students invented a catalytic converter that, for about $30, can vastly cut lawn mower emissions. It isn’t on the market yet.

Or: the final mowdown.  Replacing your lawn with other landscaping is another way to go. Check out our rain garden guide as a place to start.



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