American Lawn Care Emissions

Kyle Nolan

Russ deForest

Math 33, W&R1

9 October,  2017

American Lawn Care Emissions

            In the simmering ninety-degree heat of summer through the months of May to August, my primary work title is laborer. More specifically, I weed-whack with a gas-powered Stihl FS-250 for 8 hours a day, five days a week. This doesn’t seem like much, but according to data the emissions that I put out alone in a week is comparable to a road trip across the United States in a sedan. Factor this in with the five-other weed-whackers I work with and the fifty-four million people in the United States that uses their lawn care equipment in the U.S. and we quickly have a much larger problem on our hands. The problem is not merely that we want our lawns to look clean and cut, but that we are using gas-powered engines to do this work. With switching to a greater power such as electricity comes a great responsibility… and a greater time spent in the yard on the weekend finishing your work. When it boils down, you can have a powerful machine with bad emissions, or a less-powerful machine with no emissions at all. When you are done considering which you would rather have, and what your specific stance is on the environment, you have to weigh the scales… with the money you have to spend for your choice. Practicality in the electric and gas-powered engines is the next question, leaving your morals stranded in the thought process of which is easier to buy. The following will show what the cost of the switch from electric to gas-powered engines would be to an average American and what they would benefit from in practicality.

Every weekend in the United States, fifty-four million Americans mow their lawns, which uses eight-hundred million gallons of gas per year [Springfels n.pag]. When broken down, that’s about 15 million gallons of gasoline to cut our yards and businesses alone. The eight-hundred million gallons of gas used each weekend is accompanied by the seventeen million gallons of gasoline we spill just filling up our tanks of gas each year, this amount is more than the amount of oil that was spilled by the Exxon Valdez [Springfels n.pag].

Avoiding all of this mess could be an easier process than we would expect as Americans, but the real question asks if the pros outweigh the cons. Five percent of the nation’s air pollution was accounted for by carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and nitrogen oxides due to unregulated emissions from lawn care equipment [Springfels n.pag]. This changed in 1995, when the Environmental Protection Agency started regulating the emissions coming come these lawn care machines like lawn-mowers and weed-whackers. Now as a nation, we are under the EPA’s “phase 3,” which has successfully cut these volatile compounds down by seventy percent than what they used to be [Springfels n.pag].

Although the regulations put in place and the impact it has had seems impressive, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a statistic, saying that when you run a gas-powered mower, you are creating an equal amount of pollution to driving eight sedans at 55 miles per hour for one hour [Springfels n.pag]. This is no longer a sustainable number that we can ignore, the switch to greener, and electric mowers are right on the horizon. The people of your neighborhoods around the nation have been pushing to ban the gas-powered mowers and leaf-blowers because they’re typically found to be harmful to the environment and noisy to the neighborhood. A lot of this can be attributed to the characteristics of the two-stroke engine: which completes a cycle of combustion through two pistons, is very cheap, compact, and lightweight [Palmer n.pag].

            According to Springfels, for every 500 gas-powered mowers eliminated, you take away 212 lbs. of hydrocarbons, 2 lbs. of nitrogen oxides, and about 1 ton (2,000 lbs.) of carbon dioxide [Springfels n.pag]. This, paired with the number of Americans mowing and maintaining their lawns each weekend, will yield the results of how much pollutant Americans wouldn’t release into the atmosphere each year.

Hydrocarbons:

\[ \frac {54 \text{ Million Americans}}{\text { Weekend}} \times \frac {500 \text { gas mowers}} {500 \text { Americans}} \times \frac {.424 \text { lbs. Hydrocarbons}}{1 \text { gas mower}} \times \frac {52 \text { weeks}} { 1 \text { year}} = \frac {1.2 \times 10^9 \text { lbs. hydrocarbons saved}}{ year} \]

Nitrogen Oxides:

\[ \frac {54 \text{ Million Americans}}{\text { Weekend}} \times \frac {500 \text { gas mowers}} {500 \text { Americans}} \times \frac {.004 \text { lbs. Nitrogen Oxides}}{1 \text { gas mower}} \times \frac {52 \text { weeks}} { 1 \text { year}} = \frac {1.1 \times 10^7 \text { lbs. Nitrogen Oxides saved}}{ year} \]

Carbon Dioxides:

\[ \frac {54 \text{ Million Americans}}{\text { Weekend}} \times \frac {500 \text { gas mowers}} {500 \text { Americans}} \times \frac {4 \text { lbs. Carbon Dioxides}}{1 \text { gas mower}} \times \frac {52 \text { weeks}} { 1 \text { year}} = \frac {1.1 \times 10^{10} \text { lbs. Carbon Dioxides saved}}{ year} \]

As the calculations from the practicality show, we would save so much on emissions each year, but does that still outweigh the cost of getting all Americans to switch to the electric models? Top of the line electric mowers can cost you a pretty penny, with the “Ryobi R48110” costing $2,500 and the “Cub Cadet RZT S Zero ZTR” costing roughly $4,000 [Hope n.pag]. These mowers and weed-whackers are mostly attributed to the use of their Lithium-Ion batteries, which require extra electricity to charge and power [Hope n.pag]. In my experience working as a weed-whacker, the halt in progress to stop and charge batteries for an eight-hour day would be enough to just fire us and let the weeds overgrow. To charge each battery the cost is about $5 per year in electricity, which doesn’t seem like much but has a larger effect on the nation as a whole, and these batteries only last about 60 minutes on a charge [How to Pick n.pag].

\[ \frac {\$ 5.00} { \text { Year}} \times 54 \text { Million Americans} = \frac { \$ 270,000,000}{\text {Year}} \]

According to the article “How to Pick A Lawn Mower That’s Easy on Man–And Nature,” the ratio in cost between buying a gas-powered mower, and an electric-powered mower is 1.5, meaning the cost is 1 ½ times more expensive for an electric mower with the same output and performance [How to Pick n.pag]:

\[ \$ 1000 \text { gas mower} \times 1.5 \text { (Constant ratio for gas-electric mower cost conversion)} \times 54 \text { Million Americans} =\$ 81 \text { Billion to switch to electric powered mowers} \]

Walking head-to-toe in coveralls, boots, hardhats, and not to mention fresh cut grass, it is hard to believe that your weed-whacker still put out more energy and emissions than you have; even if you have sweat through two layers of clothing and almost passed-out from heat exhaustion plus the direct exhaust from the engine itself. Though it may seem dramatized, there are many young Americans working for contractors, Americans walking house to house to make money, and many more Americans using their mowers for lawncare use each weekend; not only putting themselves in harm’s way, but the whole planet as well.  When it comes down to finding the appropriate piece of lawncare equipment, switching to electric-power as a collective in the United States would surely outweigh the cons of keeping the gas-guzzling mowers and weed-whackers used in today’s world. The key points to consider in these findings would be cutting down on the emissions produced by a quarter of all Americans, the relative low cost it would be to switch to the electric, and how the performance isn’t fully out-matched to the reign of gas-powered engines. Thank you for following throughout this piece of writing, hopefully it will guide your thoughts and actions as you progress through buying greener lawncare equipment, whether it be for the first time or for renewing and replacing old pieces of equipment.

 

Bibliography

Hope, P. (2017, April 22). How Green Are Electric Lawn Mowers? Retrieved September 17, 2017, from https://www.consumerreports.org/lawn-mowers-and-tractors/how-green-are-electric-lawn-mowers/

How to Pick A Lawn Mower That’s Easy on Man–And Nature. (n.d.). Retrieved September 17, 2017, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-pick-a-lawnmower/

Palmer, B. (2013, September 16). How bad for the environment are gas-powered leaf blowers? Retrieved September 17, 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/how-bad-for-the-environment-are-gas-powered-leaf-blowers/2013/09/16/8eed7b9a-18bb-11e3-a628-7e6dde8f889d_story.html?utm_term=.dc112f7dea78

Springfels, C. (n.d.). Cleaner Air : Gas Mower Pollution Facts. Retrieved September 17, 2017, from http://www.peoplepoweredmachines.com/faq-environment.htm

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5 Responses to American Lawn Care Emissions

  1. Joe Balawajder says:

    Hi Kyle!

    As I read your Write and Respond 1 article, I immediately noticed your outstanding use of the MathJax application within the blog. To start, you listed the current problems with the emissions produced by lawn care and then you also provided a small pie-chart and this was a great way to back up what you stated. The topic of lawn care emissions is not a topic that we have discussed as a class, at least to my knowledge, but this was a great topic of choice in that it clearly involves the topic of sustainability. The lawn care emissions from lawn mowers, leaf blowers, weed whackers, etc. are negatively affecting our air, and you did a great job of describing these problems and also backing your information up using multiple graphs and again, the great usage of MathJax. You mentioned that 1/4 of Americans are guilty of using gas-powered machines, which I believe adds some perspective to your article. Mentioning that the switch to electric-powered devices would be a relatively low-cost switch is very important as many Americans would say that they simply do not want to spend money on a new lawn mower when theirs works perfectly fine. The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t. Sure it cuts their grass, but the pollution that takes place during the action of mowing is the real problem at hand. I also like the fact that you listed proper alternatives to the gas-powered machines that pollute our environment’s air. The switch to electric-powered machines would certainly outweigh the cons of a gas-powered lawn mower/leaf blower/weed whacker etc.
    Great job Kyle!

    -Joe Balawajder

  2. Jonathan Demi Ajayi says:

    Hi It was a really insightful piece and I believe the question of switching from gas power to electric power appliances is asked not for just lawncare but for many other products such as cars, cookers etc. I think you did a good job analysing in detail all the aspects of your argument especially costs. Cost is an important factor and is usually what most people consider when this topic comes to mind. I think there are pros and cons for both gas and electric power. In my opinion I think gas powered appliances are more eco friendly than electric powered appliances because charging electric appliances will ultimately raise one’s carbon footprint but there are other factors involved. I do like the way you laid out your arguments and equation and all your points helped strengthen your stance.

  3. Madi Murphy says:

    The topic of this post was unique and personal and that’s made it great. Firstly, the topic of lawn work is mostly not acknowledged when thinking of ways to cut down on unnecessary waste. This is incredibly odd when you see just how much this matter accumulates. This seems like a big issue that should be addressed. The math was done in a way that made it easy to understand and it was nice that you went farther than just one source that would be saved with reductions. Plus the fact you used an issue that directly affects you, made it more passionate of a blog post and that’s something that will make people relate to it more. Overall a great piece.

  4. Dave VanLandingham says:

    Kyle, I thought your blog post about American lawn care emissions was really interesting. I spent a summer working for a landscaping company and spent much of that summer working with a mow crew and doing line trimming/ weed whacking. Truthfully, the emissions from the mowers and weed whackers were not something I thought much about despite considering myself an environmentally conscious person, so when I read that the emissions emitted in one weeks worth of work are equivalent to those from a cross country road trip, I was pretty surprised. Your blog post did a good job of breaking down these large figures into understandable quantities which helped support your point. While I agree that currently electric weed whackers are not comparable to 2 stroke gas weed whackers, I do believe that electric weed whackers will be the way of the future. You addressed battery storage issues in your blog post, but battery storage and cost and the the two biggest obstacles standing in the way. Electric motors make more torque than gasoline motors and the power, quietness, efficiency of electric motors make them a great substitute to gasoline motors, however, until battery storage issues and price point issues are addressed, they will not be a viable option.

  5. Dominique C Miller says:

    Hi Kyle,
    Awesome post! I’d like to start by mentioning how clearly your calculations were presented and how easy it was for me to follow through your post. This topic was very unique and this post goes on to explain the significance of being more eco friendly by using gas and less electricity. I think the information provided in this post was useful and not only met the desired requirements but explained the importance of gas powered lawn mowers because you were so passionate about the topic being that it was a job you spent most of your summer doing. Overall great topic and the specification of a low cost switch was a good point to throw in because everyone can be eco friendly even at a low cost.

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