May 21, 2012

Lawn Mowers + Air Quality

A gasoline-powered lawn mower running for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same amount of time.
- Union of Concerned Scientists 

Over 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment.  That's more than the entire amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez spill.

Garden equpiment engines create about 5% of the nation's air pollution and a good deal more in metropolitan areas.

- Environmental Protection Agency

Summer is upon us, which brings to mind thoughts of fireworks, grills, and mowing the yard.  As with many other American youth in the bucolic lands of rural or suburban America one of my first 'jobs' was mowing our yard during the summertime.  Usually a chore I tried to avoid, but also occasionally enjoyed, a field of emerald green grass is a vision almost as classically American as an apple pie fresh out of the oven or a white picket fence.  I enjoy working in the yard and garden but was surprised to learn how detrimental some of the tools we use are to our environment, despite the seemingly pristine yard they can help to create.


The standard gas-powered lawn mower creates a disproportionately high amount of air pollutants for their size, compared to cars.  I was surprised by the figures at top - I would not have expected lawn mowers to produce 5% of our national air pollution.  Thinking of air pollution brings to mind images of freeways, large trucks, and large boats - not lawn mowers.  Air pollution is of specific concern to me because although San Diego is known as a beautiful place with gorgeous weather it is also regularly ranked as having some of the worst air quality in the nation.  In a recent study by the American Lung Association San Diego was ranked in the worst 20 cities in the nation for both ozone and short-term particle pollution.  

I use an old school 'reel-style' push mower (pictured at right).  It works well for me, although I have a small yard.  If you have a larger yard there are rechargeable mowers available on the market today that are much more powerful than the plug-in types of yesteryear.  In San Diego there is an annual event where you can trade in your old mower for a greatly discounted electric mower.  This year's event was last Saturday, May 19, but you can put it on your calendar for next year or keep an eye out for specials at local retailers for the Memorial Day holiday.  If you live elsewhere, check with your city to see if similar programs are available.  My mower cost less than $50 and requires very little maintenance - an occasional blade sharpening, and a little big of oiling to prevent rust.

Although electric powered tools still typically rely on fossil-fueled power stations that are detrimental to the environment, producing power in a central location and then distributing over power lines allows for better pollution control measures.  

Additionally, Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards are helping nearly every state to make their overall energy production cleaner and more environmentally friendly.  Here in California, we have a commitment to producing 33% of our energy from renewable sources by the year 2020 (following an original commitment to 20% by 2010).  For information on your state, please see the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions website and consider supporting renewable energy in your state.

Suggested action steps:
  1. If you have a grass lawn and use a gasoline powered mower, consider switching to a push or electric mower to reduce air pollutants
    1. If you hire a landscaper, consider an environmentally friendly provider that uses these kinds of tools
  2. Consider reducing the size your grass lawn and utilizing native plants and trees to reduce the amount of time, energy, resources, and money required to maintain your yard
  3. Enjoy your summer!

1 comment:

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