Mr. Green Car: Green lawn care

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

By this time of year, many of us have spent a lot of time keeping our lawns cut. Standards vary widely. In some neighborhoods, the lawns make golf courses look shabby, while in others, the look is yearning prairie. What I intend to discuss this week is the mechanics of lawn care—not so much what lawn care chemicals do to the environment, which is a whole other topic.

Estimates are that upwards of 600 million gallons of gasoline are consumed by lawn care equipment—mowers, trimmers and power blowers—each year in the U.S. That can be 2 to 10 percent of our total consumption. As for air pollution, lawn mowers have very poor emissions—most have no emissions controls, with primitive carburetors and ignitions. A typical four-stroke lawnmower operating for one hour produces the emissions of a new car being driven for 100 to 200 miles. Two-cycle string trimmers, blowers and hedge trimmers have far worse emissions despite their diminutive size. All are guilty of noise pollution as well.

Buying one of the 20 million new lawn mowers every year will help reduce pollution a bit—as newer mowers are more efficient. But let’s look at some other options, too.

I recently saved an old reel-type manual push mower from the scrap yard. I had in mind two friends’ small yards, either one of whom could use an old manually-powered mower rather than dealing with a gas-powered mower. Both have gardens taking up most of the space in their yards and little lawn. An old push mower is ideal for these.

The clippings fall right back into the lawn as mulch, and, properly sharpened, these mowers do a better job of cutting the grass than does a rotary-type blade that whacks the grass.

I chose one friend to buy this rescued mower, and immediately her 6-year-old grandson began to use it to mow her lawn. He loved it, and it burned off a bit of his bountiful free energy. This was a great prize for her, as she’d been having serial starting problems with her gas-powered mowers.

You may need to shop online or hunt one down at a garage sale, but it would be worth your effort if you have a small lawn. No gas, no plugs—just push.

Next in line for environmentally-friendly mowing would be an electric lawn mower. In days past, electric lawn mowers required dealing with long cords. Still, they were popular with people who did not want the hassle of gassing up and starting a power mower.

Electrics are considerably quieter, too. Modern electric mowers are battery powered, freeing you from the cord. They can be heavy, but if your lawn is a third of an acre or less and the grass is not overly long, you’ll be able to mow the whole lawn on one charge of the battery.

A 100-percent recharge from a dead flat battery will probably take about 10 hours. So, if you have a larger lawn, you may need to spread the chore over more days.

Big lawn? There are electric riding mowers available with up to three hours of operating time. You get started mowing with the flick of a switch—no wondering if it will start or not, and no gas can to deal with.

Except for the sourcing of the electricity, there will be no pollution—and from firsthand experience, I can tell you lawn mower exhaust fumes can directly impact the person doing the mowing. Just like electric cars, they are much more efficient and lower impact on the environment over gasoline power, even if coal is the source of electric power.

Often, a manually-operated rake can do a better, faster, job of moving leaves than a power blower. I use a bent-handle snow shovel to scoop up leaves, put them in a barrel and cart them to the compost pile. For smaller debris/clippings, a blower is called for, and an electric with a cord is every bit as powerful as a gas-powered blower. Cordless electric blowers and trimmers are available to replace their gas-powered equivalents, too. Hand shears can be used to trim the edges the mower misses, too. I often use them. In fact, I like to use manual-powered lawn tools quite a bit. Not because of the environment, but because they make no noise, or have a soothing sound (why I prefer a bamboo rake) and they require no charging, cords, gas, starting or stopping, and I get some much-needed exercise without going to a gym. My father called this a work “out.” In some cases, a step back is a step forward.

In the next Mr. Green Car, we’ll continue to look at “green” lawn care.

From the June 30-July 6, 2010 issue

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