Gas Lawn Mowers Belch Pollution

People concerned about the big issues of global warming, air pollution, ground-level ozone and dependence on foreign oil can look this summer to the lowly lawn mower for answers.

“They seem so friendly and harmless sitting in your garage,” said Kelly Giard, founder of Colorado-based Clean Air Lawn Care. “It’s not — it has a huge environmental impact.”

Traditional gas-powered lawn mowers are responsible for 5 percent of the nation’s air pollution, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which recently created emission regulations for small engines like those that lawn mowers use. One gas mower running for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same amount of time, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

So dedicated lawn preeners who want more than their grass to be green could drive less to offset their mowing pollution, or they could consider using the Prius of lawn care — the electric mower.

Electric mowers range in price from $150 to $450, and the average cost in electricity to power the mower for one year is about five bucks.

Clean Air Lawn Care, which expanded this summer to provide services in Boulder, uses only electric equipment — including mowers, edgers and blowers — to maintain yards. The equipment is charged overnight, but all the company’s trucks sport solar panels that can also recharge the mowers between jobs. Giard has said his business is a “triple win” — it provides a necessary service, it’s profitable, and it’s good for the environment.

“Personally, I think what’s going to happen here with gas-powered lawn equipment — it’s eventually going to go the way of smoking,” Giard said. “It’s not your God-given right to pollute the air.”

Gas mowers pollute the air in a variety of ways, from global to local. A single gas lawn mower, for example, emits 80 pounds of atmospheric-warming carbon dioxide each year, according to the EPA. That’s a big number for a city like Boulder, which is looking to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions 22 percent by 2012. The city, in fact, recommends an emission-free mow.

“I would say the best option for cutting grass, and the one that supports the goals of the Climate Action Plan, is a manual reel (push) mower,” said Beth Powell, who works for the Office of Environmental Affairs, in an e-mail. “It makes for better neighbor relations, is good exercise, they cost less, and they’re better for your grass — the clippings provide mulch for your lawn.”

The city, however, uses only gas lawn mowers and edgers to trim grass and weeds along city streets. To be fair, Giard says, electric yard equipment, which is not as powerful as gas equipment, is not yet built with industrial use in mind. His company services eight to 10 lawns a day, and that’s pushing his mowers’ limits.

Americans burn 800 million gallons of gas each year trimming their grassy yards, according to the EPA, but the gas that doesn’t make it into the mower’s fuel tank is also an environmental concern. The EPA reports that 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment — more than all the oil leaked by the Exxon Valdez off the coast of Alaska in 1989.

Spilled fuel that evaporates into the air and volatile organic compounds spit out by small engines make smog-forming ozone when cooked by heat and sunlight. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has issued 36 ozone alerts around the Front Range already this summer, and last week, the Denver area exceeded the federal limit for ozone concentrations allowed for an eight-hour period.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Laura Snider at 303-473-1327 or

by Laura Snider, Staff Writer, Daily Camera
Original Story: Gas Lawn Mowers Belch Pollution
Source: Daily Camera, Friday, July 27, 2007


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