Should We Stop Mowing Our Lawns?

This week’s blog is a little different from most of mine. Usually I am discussing diminishing resources, or some novel way that is actually feasible for helping us remain sustainable. This week’s solution is a bit off the wall, and to be perfectly honest, I am not sure implementing this would actually accomplish much. I did do my research though and found a few surprising facts.

Have you ever wondered what the carbon footprint of your yard was? I am not talking about the grass itself, which is theoretically a carbon sink as grass is a plant, but I am talking about the up keep and the grooming so many of put towards our lawns. Cutting it, using fertilizer, some even water it. All of this is pretty unsustainable. I understand not everyone uses fertilizer and not everyone one waters their lawns, but pretty much every family mows their lawn throughout the warm summer months.

I never realized this, but mowing your grass is extremely bad for the environment if you use a self-propelled push mower. If using the average engine powered mower, cutting the grass for one hour is equivalent to driving a car for 200 miles! I have quite a large yard (I’m from a more rural area that isn’t quite farm country) so we have riding mower, I can’t imagine the type of pollutants it puts out.

So one question we must ask is what can we do? There are a few alternatives that exist, and a few that aren’t quite too bad. If you have a small yard, a good old reel mower might do the trick. I actually have one in my shed that we use for small areas and little trim ups. Besides, it certainly gives you more exercise! There are electric lawn mowers out there, but many are corded making them impractical for larger yards. There are mowers that run on batteries, but most only last about an hour.  Some, if you search hard enough, run on propane or natural gas. I was able to find one hybrid lawn mower, that works like the Chevy Volt. The Raven MPV-710 uses batteries, but has a small generator on board that kicks in when the batteries die. Unlike a standard electric lawn mower, this riding mower can last twelve hours on a five gallon fill up.

The other question we need to ask is why are lawn mowers so bad for the environment? Both a power lawn mower and a car use engines right, aren’t they the same? No, they aren’t. A lawn mower engine is a two-stroke engine, while a car is a four-stroke engine. A two-stroke engine, is an engine that completes its power cycle in two strokes. First the piston moves down, bringing in fuel, while expelling exhaust. The piston then moves up, compressing the fuel and igniting. On its way back down, the fuel is sucked in, and the exhaust is expelled, you can see the cycle. In a fours stroke engine, the piston moves up and down twice in one engine cycle. It starts off the same way, moving down and bringing fuel in. Then the piston moves up compressing the fuel, the fuel is ignited and the piston is pressed down. On the way back up, the exhaust is expelled. Now the piston is in the top position, ready to draw in fuel again. A two stroke burns both gas and oil (this is why you sometime see blueish smoke when you start a lawnmower or a chainsaw), and don’t burn it as fully, resulting in greater emissions. So why are they used? A two stroke engine provides more power, while being lighter, perfect for yard equipment.

While it is often something we don’t think about, everything we do that uses some sort of machine pollutes. Sometimes the pollution comes from where we would least expect it.

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4 Responses to Should We Stop Mowing Our Lawns?

  1. Maria Sharpe says:

    A big improvement I have read about is installing a catalytic converter in lawn movers. All gasoline cars have them (by law), and they have helped reduce CO emissions by leaps and bounds. The only problem is that a lot of lawn mowers still lake leaded gas, which is illegal to run in you car because it was causing cancer in small children. Leaded gas will destroy a catalystic converter as well.

  2. Alex Hudock says:

    I never thought about how yard-keeping could affect the environment. I knew that lawnmowers released more emissions than cars, but I had no idea how much more. My question, however, is if finding an alternative is necessary? As you said, two-stroke engines are lighter and produce more power, making them perfect for yard work. Maybe the answer isn’t replacing these two-stroke engines with something else but instead cut down on how often we cut our lawns.

  3. Jackie Proszynski says:

    its hard to beleive that a small lawnmower can have that much of an environmental impact! I never would have even thought of that. I have a decent sized yard too so I feel kinda bad knowing how much of a carbon footprint it has. That hybrid mower sounds like a good option, they just need to become more available but even then people probably wont buy them untill their existing mowers break. Something to keep in mind when I get a house and need a lawn mower! Also once last thing, I always wanted one of those push lawn mowers, i heard it was a great workout haha but actually…

  4. Spencer Schrock says:

    I know what you mean about those semi rural lawns, mine takes a while even with a riding mower, and no one really thinks about cutting their lawn as an environmental problem. I’m not sure how well the hybrid will work in terms of adoption. People aren’t exactly flocking to hybrid cars, so I can imagine that they would be rushing for a hybrid lawnmower. I feel like it will depend a lot on the cost.

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