Green Alternatives to Gas-Powered Lawn Mowers

Lawn mowers may account for five percent of U.S. air pollution, EPA says

Overhead Shot of Gardener Mowing Lawn with Ride On Mower
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You may have heard that gas-powered lawn mowers, despite their small engine size, actually pollute as much as cars. Reports about those noxious fumes emitted from gasoline lawn mowers are indeed true. A Swedish study conducted in 2001 concluded, “Air pollution from cutting grass for an hour with a gasoline powered lawn mower is about the same as that from a 100-mile automobile ride.” Meanwhile, the 54 million Americans mowing their lawns each weekend with gas-powered mowers may be contributing as much as f5 percent of the nation’s air pollution, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Small Engines Lead to Big Pollution Problems

The problem is that small engines emit disproportionately large amounts of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides that contribute to smog. The human health effects of smog-laden air are well known, and include inflammation and damage to lungs, increased risk of asthma attacks, and lowered levels of oxygen in the bloodstream, which can aggravate heart conditions.

New Standards Reduce Mower Emissions

Fortunately, in 2007 the EPA has phased in new emissions standards for gas mower engines, resulting in a 32 percent smog-producing emissions reduction for all models made. And with even more stringent standards in California, environmental leaders are hoping that the old adage for automobile trends (“as goes California, so goes the nation”) will soon apply to lawn mowers, too.

Electric Lawn Mowers

But even with such progress, gas power is not the only option. Eco-conscious consumers looking for a new mower should consider, among other options, any of the electric models now available. The easy part is the price, as many models cost less than $200. The trade-off is that the corded ones work only for small lawns as they must be tethered to a power outlet during use. However, the development of new long-lasting lithium-ion batteries now means there many cordless electric models available on the market.

Going electric is not necessarily a way to reduce pollution overall. According to Consumer Reports, “Achieving a net environmental savings from switching to electric mowers depends on the efficiency of the power plant” from where the electricity originates. It is easier, however, to control polluting emissions from a single power plant then from thousands of individual mowers and other gasoline-powered motors which can be replaced by an electric version.

Solar-Powered Mowers Offer Green Alternatives

If money is not an issue, the solar-powered “auto mower” from Husqvarna can’t be beat for both eco-friendliness and convenience. It wanders unattended around any level lawn, its collision sensors carefully avoiding contact with anything but the grass itself. While it is currently not available directly in the U.S., some Husqvarna dealers are willing to special order it from Sweden where it is manufactured.

The Most Eco-Friendly Lawn Mower

Of course, the greenest choice of all is the mower that runs on three square meals a day and a good exercise regimen: the venerable human-powered reel mower. The most popular choices are from American Lawn Mower, which makes nine models including a child-size one. They can be found at online retailers and at local hardware stores.