EarthTalk: Green Lawnmowers
Dear EarthTalk: What’s available now in lawnmowers that are easier on the environment? My yard is too big for one of those “reel” mowers, and I’m no longer a spring chicken, so I have to buy something that runs on more than human power. What’s out there? — Joel Klein, Albany, NY
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), traditional gas-powered lawnmowers are a public nuisance to say the least. Using one of them for an hour generates as many volatile organic compounds — dangerous airborne pollutants known to exacerbate human respiratory and cardiovascular problems — as driving a typical car for 350 miles. The EPA estimates that, with some 54 million Americans mowing their lawns on a weekly basis, gas lawnmower emissions account for as much as five percent of the nation’s total air pollution. Beyond that, homeowners spill some 17 million gallons of gasoline every year just refueling their lawnmowers.
So what’s a green-minded property owner to do about keeping the grass down? Go electric, of course!
Electric mowers, which either plug into a wall outlet via a long cord or run on batteries charged up from the grid, create no exhaust emissions and run much cleaner than their gas-powered counterparts. They also need less maintenance, with no spark plugs or belts to worry about, and are easier to use, as they tend to be smaller and come with push-button starters. The icing on the cake might be the fact that electric mowers are cheaper to run, using about as much electricity as an ordinary toaster. Most electric mower owners spend about $5 a year on electricity to keep their grass trimmed just right. The non-profit Electric Power Research Institute reports that replacing half of the 1.3 million or so gas mowers in the U.S. with electric models would save the equivalent amount of emissions of taking two million cars off the road.
But going electric has some minor trade-offs. Electric mowers tend to cost up to $150 more than their gas-powered counterparts, and the plug-in varieties can only go 100 feet from the closest outlet without an extension cord. And the cordless models last only 30-60 minutes on a charge, depending on battery size and type, though that’s plenty sufficient for the average lawn (just remember to re-charge it in time for the next mow).
And, of course, just because electric mowers don’t consume fossil fuels or spew emissions directly doesn’t mean they are totally green-friendly. Most people derive their household electricity from coal-fired power plants, the dirtiest of all energy sources. Of course, running an electric mower on electricity generated from clean and renewable sources (solar, wind or hydro power) would be the greenest of all possibilities, and those days may be upon us soon.
For those ready to take the electric mower plunge, the Greener Choices website, a project of Consumer Reports, gives high marks to Black & Decker’s corded ($230) and cordless ($400) models for their efficiency, reliability and ease-of-use. Corded models from Worx and Homelite (both around $200) also fared well, along with cordless offerings from Craftsman, Homelite, Remington and Neuton ($300-450).
CONTACTS: Greener Choices, www.greenerchoices.org.
Got an environmental question? Send it to EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or submit to www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/. Read past columns at www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.