Conservation tip: power your lawnmower with milk and bananas

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One 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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9 Comments

  1. John K

    Neutron,
    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!
    Thanks.

  2. Zmajrjc
  3. Zmajrjc
  4. Zmajrjc
  5. Elaine Williams

    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.

  6. Lawn Care

    What do you think of electric string trimmers and edgers?

  7. Ken

    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.

  8. Yvette

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

  9. Jazz

    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.