Conservation tip: power your lawnmower with milk and bananas

Push it goodOne of the lovable cranks who writes to TerraPass recently suggested that perhaps we should be paying him, because his thriving lawn is pulling so much carbon out of the air. We gently explained the difference between the natural carbon cycle and manmade emissions from fossil fuels. But perhaps we should have been more blunt: American lawns are an environmental disaster.

Nearly 50,000 square miles of America is covered in lawn. Perhaps an even larger acreage of the American psyche is taken up by the quest for the perfect lawn, which rivals frontier and farmland for the title of most iconic American landscape. Home on the range? Amber waves of grain? They’ve got nothing on a white picket fence around a half-acre free of crabgrass.

The problems with lawns are many: fertilizers, pesticides, and excessive water usage, to name but a few. But we’re carbon people, so today we’re going to talk mowers.

Lawnmowers have developed in much the same way as cars. Automatic transmissions. Drinkholders. And lots and lots of emissions. The Times recently ran an article on the dirty politics of the lawnmower industry, which has fought tooth-and-nail against the proposed requirement of a catalytic converter to reduce smog-forming pollutants.

Gallon for gallon — or, given the size of lawnmower tanks, quart for quart — the 2006 lawn mower engines contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars, according to the California Air Resources Board. In California, lawn mowers provided more than 2 percent of the smog-forming pollution from all engines.

It might take a few years, but the EPA will eventually prevail. In the meantime, we’ve got a much simpler and cheaper solution that you can enact today: get yourself a push mower.

The push mower was invented in 1830 by Englishman Edwin Budding, and it’s been despised ever since. But the scorn is no longer deserved. Modern push mowers are so easy to use that the internet postively gushes over with praise.

Among their virtues: they’re quiet, require minimal maintenance, are better for your grass, emit no foul fumes, are cheaper, take up less space in the garage, and provide a pleasant form of mild exercise.

TerraBlog reader Tom Harrison provides some other eco-friendly lawn care tips, including a recommendation for some electric mowers if you absolutely can’t stand the thought of getting your back into it.

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  1. Anonymous - May 17, 2006

    Even though it’s not explicitly a piece on “carbon”, this article from Monday’s LA Times is spectacular. Time to replace those lawns with gardens full of native species.,1,318553.story

  2. Doug - May 17, 2006

    I own a Neutron battery mower. I have 3/4 acre and mow it in about 1 hour and 15 minutes. For people who may shy away from a push mower, the battery mower may be the answer. I love it very much. There are no fumes, fuel, less noise and mulches very well. The push mower would be the best choice but the battery mower would be much better than a gas hog any day.

  3. tom - May 17, 2006

    Is this what you have Doug?

    We should get one and review it (although I don’t actually have any grass to cut).

    Maybe we can just go out in the Presidio golf course and play with it 😉

  4. Tom Harrison - May 17, 2006

    Ok, I admit I am lame, but the rechargeable mower I got is a far sight better than the gas mower I abandoned. I had a reel mower in the past (a good sharp one) and, you know what, there’s a reason they made an alternative. They don’t work all that well. I mowed my lawn this evening (after the blessed remission from 10 days of rain we have had here in Boston) and it was quiet, quick, and easy.
    You know, I feel bad about driving my Prius, because it’s a bad thing compared to not driving. So I got a TerraPass. But it’s better than most other cars (which are, apparently a lot better than most lawnmowevers!), and so, I guess I am happy having made an important incremental step. Same thing with the electric mower.

  5. MM - May 18, 2006

    Oh my God, have you guys ever pushed a a lawn mower that wasn’t self propelled on a yard that isn’t level? It just doesn’t happen. Of course some people may have small yards that are a straight shot and then it might be a good option. For the rest of us, planting trees and native species are a great way to say goodbye to your mower. Otherwise, try the electric one.

  6. Julianne - June 15, 2006

    Okay, I’m convinced. I have just a small lawn and I’m ready to use push mower, but what should I do with my gas-powered unit? If sell I sell or give it away, someone else will use it, which doesn’t really add to the solution. I don’t want to landfill it. What about one of those programs like they have for hand guns, where you turn them in to the proper authorities in exchange for something? Seriously, any suggestions?

  7. Victoria - June 21, 2006

    Not sure where you live, Julianne, but we’ve got a once-a-year program in Canada called Mow Down Pollution. It’s a partnership between an organization called “Clean Air Foundation” and the Home Depot where people can turn in their older gas mowers or trimmers for rebates instant rebates on the purchase of cleaner electric or push power mowers, cordless rechargeable trimmers, or lower emission gas mowers. The website is Maybe something can be set up with the Home Depot or other retailer in your area? Oh, and the old mowers, etc., are all decommissioned and recycled as steel scrap. Hope that helps…

  8. Jim - June 21, 2006

    Hi. Does this battery mower have a lot of torque? I’ve had electric mowers before (been about 10 years though) and they often had trouble with long (and especially wet) grass. Never had a battery mower…

  9. Julianne - July 5, 2006

    Just wanted to say thanks to Victoria (#7) who posted an answer to my question about how to dispose of the gas-powered unit. I live in Santa Cruz, Calif. and I don’t think that program exists here, but we do have a Home Depot and a lot of citizens dedicated to recycling and a clean environment. I’ll contact Home Depot and see what I can get going, thanks again for the suggestion!

  10. lawnmower - March 5, 2007

    Battery powered mowers still use a lot of resources to create them and if you are charging from a wall socket then you are just using coal etc instead of petrol. The push mower is still the most efficient. Better still, plant creeping thyme instead of grass so it doesn’t need cutting.

  11. Rule 56 - March 8, 2007

    I’ve been using an old-fashioned push reel mower for about the past six years. I live in suburbia and get a lot of strange looks from my neighbors, but they’ve accepted my eccentricities (I also commute to work on a bicycle – year round). The push reel doesn’t work as well as my gas-powered mower, and it takes longer to do, but I wouldn’t use anything else any more.

  12. Neutron Man - April 1, 2007

    I have a neutron Mower and it works great. the only issue is it has a small cutting width.
    As for charging it using fossil or coal fuel. I placed two 12 volt solar cells on my roof of my shed. I then wired them together for 24vdc and installed a blocking diode. I bought the panels from They were identified as solar panels for 12 battery maintainer.
    And lets not forget that a steel foundry produces high amounts of polution. And the amount of coal or gas that is required to produce the steel for that push mower!

  13. Aaron A. - April 2, 2007

    Rule 56:
    That’s an odd place, Suburbia. I’m not sure quite when frugality, conservation, and manual labor became “eccentricities.”

    I used those push-mowers when I was a kid, and I absolutely despised them. They were a pain to push, they never got the job done the first time, and as MM points out, hills were sheer misery. I think I’d just as soon go with a plug-in model.

  14. John K - May 20, 2007

    Is there any place you can recommend where I could see detailed instructions (with a parts list) of how to hook up that solar cell charger you’ve put together? I am getting a battery-powered mower – just need to choose between the Neutron and Black & Decker – and I would love to be able to charge this thing without using any grid-based electric!

  15. Zmajrjc - June 6, 2007
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  18. Elaine Williams - April 29, 2008

    In reply to Neutron Man…they have introduced a new Neutron mower this year with a 20 inch cutting width and a more powerful battery. They still have the orginal Neutron for those people who want the smaller mower. Right now they are having a sale with free shipping and a free extended warranty.

  19. Lawn Care - September 29, 2008

    What do you think of electric string trimmers and edgers?

  20. Ken - May 21, 2009

    I have a Neutron 6.2. If you have long wet grass, don’t even consider this mower. I actually love the mower; very easy to use, does a great job, relatively quite, seems well built, BUT I find that I mow my lawn more frequently, simply because the mower is easily overwhelmed by anything more than a trim. If you’re away for a week or 2, or there’s a long rainy spell it may take 2 or 3 charges to finish lawn instead of the usual one. Also, you have to be sure to make narrow passes through the grass and not try to cut wide swaths.
    The 6.2 is Neutron’s biggest mower. We have a lawn that measures 1/8 of an acre. When the mower was new it would just barely finish the lawn on a single charge. Now, in it’s second season, it only lasts about 15 min per charge. Needless ti say, I’m waiting on a reply from neutron.

  21. Yvette - May 24, 2009

    My Neuton 6 mower keeps blowing the circuit board and safety key. Is anyone having similar problems?

  22. Jazz - June 13, 2009

    I would just like to put another plug in for the reel mowers. My yard is not small (over 0.5 acre) and it is not level (some steep slopes near the edges), but I am doing it with the reel mower. It is not easy work, but I am a young man (42) and in good shape, so it serves as my jogging on Sunday. I do not recommend it for small/frail people, for people who have large yards, or obsessive people who feel the need for a manicured look. My yard is in Texas and it takes me 3.5 hours once a week in the summer and 1.5 hours in the slower growing seasons. The things I like best about it is that it has no smell (other than the grass), no oil or gas, and it is quiet enough to listen to the birds.