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December 9, 2010

Death by Lawn Mower. ~ Frannie Oliver

Can the Atmosphere Withstand Another Clean Cut Lawn?

Environmentally speaking, which machine is worse: a typical car, or a little lawn mower? The answer may surprise you; it certainly did me. A small lawn mower is much worse for the environment than a typical car, mainly because of its engine. A lawn mower has a two-stroke engine, while a car has a four-stroke engine.

The difference between a two and four-stroke engine is pretty big; while the two-stroke is faster, smaller, and less complex than a four-stroke, it also puts out larger amounts of pollution. This comes from the oil that is getting burnt during combustion, creating a smoky engine that releases high levels of carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. Also, there is fuel constantly leaking out of the exhaust port. In these two ways, two-stroke engines contribute largely to the amount of green house gases found in the atmosphere today.

However, these gases aren’t just a product of lawn mowers. Two-stroke engines can be found on motorcyles, scooters, bikes, and many other small, motorized mechanisms. The pollution from these devices is found around cities across the world, but in the United States it seems to be everywhere. The majority of people in America mow their lawns for at least a portion of the year. Many of the lawn mowers in use are powered by a two-stroke engine, with one mower emitting the same level of pollution in an hour as 40 new cars left running would. Along with individual Americans, cities use lawn mowers in their maintenance of public property in parks and green areas. This means that there is even more pollution caused solely by the use of lawn mowers.

Here in Boulder, Colorado, the city has committed to meet and uphold the standards of the Kyoto Protocol. The aim of the protocol is to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to the levels they were in 1990. While the United States isn’t a participant, Boulder decided to commit to the protocol anyway. However, many Boulder residents use lawn mowers with two-stroke engines.

What can be done to fix this problem? Is there a way to maintain a clean-cut lawn in an environmentally friendly way?

In fact, there is. In existence there are electric lawn mowers, both cord and cordless. By running on electricity instead of gas, these mowers are infinitely better for the environment.  They’re also very easy to use, with a lever that’s pushed down to start instead of pulling a cord over and over. In addition to an electric lawn mower, there is also a reel lawn mower. The reel mower is operated as a manual push mower that’s extremely effective on smaller yards, and environmentally friendly as well.

Ultimately, it would be easy for most Boulder residents to make the switch from a gas-powered mower to an electric or reel mower. However, for large yards and city green spaces, electric and reel mowers aren’t practical. They take longer than a gas-powered mower, and when the city is paying mowers by the hour, being environmentally conscious ends up costing more money and more time. Electric mowers also only have a certain amount of time that they will maintain a charge for, or a cord that must stay plugged in throughout usage.

It seems like the city of Boulder will continue to use bio-diesel-powered lawn mowers; they’re the cheapest option across the board, except when it comes to the environment. Is there a way to be environmentally conscious and practical at the same time? Or will the environment continue to be hurt by the use of gas-powered mowers?

Thank you Lilligreen for the featured image.

Frannie Oliver is a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She plays Ultimate Frisbee and rides her Cruiser bike around Boulder even though it has no gears. She enjoys attempting to be green, and as an intern at Elephant Journal is succeeding more than she thought possible.

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