Eco-Myth – How bad is your lawn mower for the environment?

Photo by miggslives |

You’ve seen him before. He’s basically the eco Ned Flanders of your neighbourhood. He bikes virtually all the time. Takes public transit or carpools when he can’t. And he uses a push mower. Yep, he’s one of those guys. He toughs it out and mows his lawn with no power but his own. You roll your eyes at him. Put a shirt on you goodie two shoes. I mean, how bad are lawn mowers for the environment anyways?

Turns out, for gas powered, non-riding mowers, they’re bad. Real bad. We’re talking leaving your car idling as your friend runs inside and waits in the 10 minute Tim Horton’s lineup to grab you a coffee in the summer, bad. The extent of this “badness” began to be investigated in the 1990s by the Environment Australia and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States. An example of the methodology of these studies can come from the report “Emissions from in-use lawn-mowers in Australia” by Priest, Williams and Bridgman in Atmospheric Environment in 2000. This study looked at 16 gas powered, non-riding lawn mowers from random participants in an Australian community. The mowers had their emissions and fuel consumption measured while being tested in a variety of different settings (ex: cold start, idling, varying load difficulties etc) in a closed off 2m x 2m x 2m shed. Studies like these have revealed that in regions in Australia and the United States, lawn mowers can contribute greater than 5% of the total air pollution in an area.

This is a significant finding because of the dangerous pollutants that are emitted from lawn mowers. Carbon Monoxide (CO), Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), other non-methane hydrocarbons (CxHx) and nitric oxides (NOx) are all harmful gases that can be emitted while running your lawn mower. Depending on the specific air pollutant it has been estimated by the EPA that running your lawn mower for one hour can be the equivalent of driving up to 11 new cars for the amount of time! Additionally, the EPA has also taken into consideration that amount of fuel that can be spilled in this process. Current EPA estimates state that roughly 17 million gallons of gas are spilled each year while Americans are refueling their lawn and garden equipment!

So what does this all mean? Are you a bad person because you mow your lawn with a gas mower? No, not necessarily. Most of us drive cars and have thrown out a plastic bottle when there wasn’t a recycling bin around too. The important thing to keep in mind here is what you can do to alleviate this burden. Could you buy a non-motorized mower? Or more electric eco-friendly one? Do you need to cut your lawn as often as you do? Are you using other small engines around your home that produce similar levels of pollutants like chainsaws, weed whackers and leaf blowers? What alternatives are available for them? Not all of us are going to be eco Ned Flanders, but there are small things we can do to try to help out a little more ... okily dokily? 

Graydon Simmons