Did you know that mowing your lawn for one hour produces as much air pollution and carbon emissions as driving an average car for 100 miles? It seem shocking, but the reason is simple: small engines are not required to have pollution-scrubbing catalytic converters. Americans use about 800 million gallons of gasoline every year mowing lawns, producing about 5% of the nation’s air pollution.
Fortunately, there is a growing number of eco-friendly lawn mowers available on the market. These come in two basic types: human powered and electricity powered.
Human-Powered Lawn Mowers
The most ancient form of human powered lawn mower is the scythe. Scythes fell out of favor after the advent of faster and more efficient horse (and later tractor) drawn mowers, but in recent years they have undergone a minor renaissance as more and more people turn to sustainable, eco-friendly methods of grass cutting.
Scythes are not suitable for use on the average suburban lawn, because they do not cut close or evenly enough to meet modern standards. However, they’re a great tool for weed and small brush control, and for small-scale mowing jobs on rural acreages. Scythes are simple to use and maintain. They produce no noise or pollution, and cut well in wet or mucky conditions that mowers can’t handle. They also cut tall grasses and weeds very effectively. Many users find the repetitive motion of scythes to be extremely relaxing, and even meditative. However, because of their sharpness, they are not safe for use by young children.
A more modern form of human powered lawn mower is the reel mower. Like scythes, reel mowers have undergone a renaissance in recent years thanks to their quiet operation, ease of maintenance, and lack of pollution. Reel mowers are also lightweight and safe for most school-age children to use! Reel motors are best used for relatively small yards and unlike scythes, do not handle wet conditions or tall grass very well.
Electricity-Powered Lawn Mowers
There are currently two basic types of electric mowers: corded and cordless.
Electric mowers reduce carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and methane emissions by 99% over gas-powered mowers. They reduce carbon dioxide emissions by anywhere from 38-100%, depending on the type of power used to generate the electricity. They are typically much quieter than gas powered mowers. In fact, most operate at about 75 decibels, the level of normal conversation! Gas powered mowers can reach as loud as 95 decibels, as loud as a motorcycle, and should be used no more than an hour a day to protect your ears from damage. Electric mowers also require significantly less maintenance than most gas-powered mowers, and use only about $5 worth of electricity per year, making them cheaper to operate.
Both corded and cordless electric mowers are best for relatively small yards. Corded mowers need to stay within reach of an electrical outlet and cordless mowers have limited battery power. The exact period of time cordless electric mowers will run depends on many factors, including the height and moisture level of the grass, the terrain, and the power of the engine. Typically, they will run mow up to 8,000 square feet of relatively dry lawn, half that for tall or wet conditions. The batteries typically require 8-24 hours to recharge fully between uses. However, shorter charging times can allow shorter mowing periods. Some electric mowers come with their own solar panels to recharge the battery.
Both corded and cordless mowers can provide good mulching action and similar performance to gas-powered mowers, but unlike gas-powered mowers, they are generally not self-propelled.
Five Great Eco-Friendly Lawn Mowers
Lehman’s American-style scythes and snaths (scythe handles) offer a choice of blades specialized for cutting grass or brush. The blades are steel with a hand ground edge and fit the ergonomic American-style snaths. For beginning scythers, we recommend The Scythe Book, by David Tresemer, a complete guide to the proper use and maintenance of your scythe.
The RazorCut Premium 38 Reel Lawn Mower is a lightweight (just 17 pounds!) yet effective reel mower with a 15″ swath and welded steel blades for easy cutting. A spoiler on the back of the mower keeps clippings from splattering your legs as you mow, and a grass catcher accessory is available for an extra price.
The Neuton CE5 Battery Powered Mower is a great choice for small lawns, typically cutting up to 1/4 acre on a single charge. It has a removable battery and you can purchase an optional spare battery to extend mowing time. A study by the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse found that the CE5 is the quietest cordless electric mower available.
Black & Decker’s CMM 1200 24V Cordless Mulching Mower gets high marks for simulating the power of a gas-powered mower without the noise, pollution, and costly maintenance. The CMM 1200 will typically cut up to 1/3 acre on a single battery charge and recharges in 10 hours. It has a 19″ swath and a folding handle for compact storage.
If you love riding mowers, consider the Electric Ox MP! The Electric Ox has a 44″ heavy duty mowing deck and runs up to five continuous hours when mowing and can recharge in 12 hours. In addition to its mowing capabilities, the Electric Ox can also be used for towing and as a portable AC power supply to allow electric tool use in remote areas.
Main Image Credit: One Tree Hill Studios