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Is There a Greener Way to Mow

Going ‘green’ is the ‘in’ thing to do, but are homeowners overlooking the green in their yard when ‘greening’ their lives? Your grass isn’t nearly as green as it looks if you’re still using a gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing lawn mower, but is cutting your grass with a reel mower the only way to be green?

Most homeowners are shocked to learn that the conventional gas-powered lawn mower they or their lawn service provider use throughout the summer months actually emit more pollution than their vehicles. According to one U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study, in one hour, one lawn mower emits the same amount of total (all pollutants) air pollution as a vehicle driven 100 miles and the same volume of hydrocarbons as a 1992 Ford Explorer driven 23,600 miles. The main pollutants associated with lawn mowers and other lawn equipment are the same as those from any other fossil fuel-burning internal combustion engine: hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), and carbon dioxide (CO2). Hydrocarbons are a volatile organic compound (VOC) that reacts with NOx in the presence of sunlight to form ground-level ozone, a major health hazard during summer months. CO is also a threat to human health as it inhibits the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Finally, CO2­ is a greenhouse gas and a major contributor to climate change. The small engines in lawn mowers, trimmers and blowers used by conventional lawn service providers disproportionately emit these pollutants because the engines are not equipped with the pollution-reducing catalytic converters that come standard on internal combustion vehicles.

So you are probably wondering, “Are there any viable and affordable alternatives to my dirty gas lawn mower?” Absolutely. And, they’re getting better all the time. You could start by looking into the reel mowers mentioned earlier. These are the manual mowers that are as powerful as the person pushing them and 100% emissions-free. You won’t find too many lawn service providers or opportunities franchise using these mowers however, so if you’re looking for someone to mow your lawn for you or for something a little more automated, you’ll have to look toward electric mowers or those that run on alternative fuels.

Electric mowers have come a long way over the last 10-15 years. In the early development of the electric mower, users struggled with a lack of horsepower and short battery life or dangerous power cords. This led many in the lawn service industry to overlook the potential of electric mowers in their field or as an opportunities franchise. Recently, however, companies like Black & Decker and Neuton have come out with cordless electric mowers comparable in power and price to their gas-guzzling counterparts and lawn care franchises are popping up around the nation using these clean and quiet mowers. Electric mowers are emissions-free, emitting 3,000 times less hydrocarbons, 5,000 times less CO, 1/5th as much NOx and less than half the CO2 as gas lawn mowers. The few emissions that are associated with electric mowers are from the conventionally (coal, natural gas etc.) generated electricity used to charge the mowers. When the mowers are charged with solar, wind or other renewable energy, the emissions are reduced to zeroes across the board. In more and more cities around the country, homeowners can sign up for wind energy to charge their electric mower or they can hire an eco-friendly lawn service company.

Electric mowers are also appealing to homeowners, apartment complexes, business parks, schools, and hospitals because they are quiet. Conventional gas mowers run at an average of 100 decibels; anything over 90 decibels can cause ear damage. Electric mowers, on the other hand cut noise emissions by 50 – 70%.

The other option is to use biodiesel in a traditional diesel mower or retrofit a gas mower to use ethanol. The emissions reduction associated with both fuel types is determined by the origin and composition of the fuel. For example, biodiesel made from waste vegetable oil has a lower emissions factor than biodiesel made from virgin crops produced specifically for biodiesel because waste veggie oil is considered recycled. Also, B100 (biodiesel made from 100% biofuels) has significantly lower emissions than B20 since the latter fuel is only 20% biofuel and 80% conventional diesel. Unfortunately, there is no noise reduction associated with the use of these types of fuel.
The cost associated with retrofitting your existing mower or upgrading to an electric mower depends on the mower you choose and the fuel you use, but the costs are fairly comparable to buying a new gas mower. States and municipalities, particularly those with air pollution issues, frequently offer rebate and/or incentive programs to encourage property owners to use cleaner equipment. Don’t forget to green your lawn when you green your life!

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