If you think the gas-powered lawn mower that only leaves your shed once a week during the summer isn’t a threat to air quality, think again. These machines emit significant amounts of polluting gases, including hydrocarbons (HC), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC), which contribute to smog formation (1).
In Canada, gas-powered lawn equipment uses up to 151 million litres of gasoline every year (2). And in Quebec, two-thirds of households have a lawn or garden and 70% of them own a gas-powered lawn mower (3).
The old two-stroke engine lawn mowers, which require a fuel-oil mixture, can emit as much smog-forming pollution in one hour as driving a car for more than 320 km—the distance from Montreal to Baie-St-Paul(4)! Calculate how much time you spend mowing the lawn in a 16- to 20 week season, and you can get a rough idea of how much pollution is caused by this little weekly chore. If you still own one of these lawn mowers, it’s high time you dropped it off at the nearest ecocentre.
Other good reasons for getting rid of gas-powered lawn mowers
- They can directly affect our respiratory and cardiovascular health and that of our family. Air pollution particularly affects seniors, children and people with cardiac disorders, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and allergies. The Canadian Public Health Association recommends limiting the use of gas-powered lawn mowers particularly on high pollution days (5).
- They ruin the ambience. Gas-powered lawn mowers produce around 90 decibels (between 80 and 96). That’s more than a truck driving at 50 km/hr twenty metres away—an irritating and stressful noise. And how about those Saturdays when several neighbours are all mowing at the same time! According to the Quebec Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists, this noise level is close to the 100-decibel threshold, which is considered a risk to hearing health. Furthermore, this threshold can be exceeded by leaf and snow blowers (6,7). We’re talking serious noise pollution.
U.S and Canadian regulations
Since 1995, standards for the manufacture and importation of gas-powered lawn mowers have been adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an effort to reduce polluting emissions from lawn mowers and other outdoor power equipment, such as hedge trimmers and leaf blowers.
Over the years, Canada has followed suit by aligning its regulations with those of its neighbour, and recently published for consultation a new update of its Off-Road Small Spark-Ignition Engine Emission Regulations to fully harmonize Canadian and U.S. standards (8).
Two-stroke engines were removed from the Canadian market in 2005 (9). At that time, it was estimated that about 3 million of these machines were being used in Canada (10), a large number of which must still be used today because they have a lifespan of decades. Perhaps there’s still one in your or your neighbour’s shed?
The more recent four-stroke engines are 70% more efficient (11). However, these very small engines don’t have anti-pollution systems like cars and generate a great deal of fine particles (PM2.5), which are responsible for smog and greenhouse gas emissions.8 In fact, they can emit as much pollution in one hour as driving a car 150 km (12).
How to sustainably maintain your lawn
In 2013, the city of Granby introduced a subsidy program for the purchase of manual or electric lawn mowers and mulcher blades (13). By the end of 2015, the city had given out over $10,000 in grants for the purchase of 134 eco-friendly lawn mowers and 28 mulcher blades. This initiative may well inspire other municipalities (14). Some Montreal neighbourhoods are considering another original project—using a few sheep to keep the lawn at an acceptable height in parks and municipal grounds(15)!
The pros of manual lawnmowers
- They emit no pollutants.
- They’re inexpensive: basic models cost less than $150—second-hand ones, even less. Even sophisticated models with a chain and gearing feature are less expensive than gas-powered lawn mowers.
- They’re quiet, which makes mowing a more pleasant experience and means you can use them whenever you want without bothering other people in the neighbourhood—even on a Sunday.
- They require little maintenance (blade sharpening every one or two years), take up less space and are always ready to use. What’s more, there’s no need for tune-ups or trips to the gas station.
- Their cylinder blades produce a fine cut that keeps the lawn healthy.
And the cons
- They’re more tiring to use? Yes and no: in the case of small lawns (<150 m2), the difference is minimal. What’s more, some of the more sophisticated models have technologies that make them 40% easier to push. Mowing does take a little longer if you have to go around obstacles and they are not recommended for uneven terrain.
- Tip: It’s better to mow the lawn regularly as it’s harder to cut long grass.
Want to cut your emissions but your lawn is over 1,000 m2 (10,000 sq. ft.) or you don’t want to use a manual lawn mower?
- Try an electric corded lawn mower (a bit awkward to handle) or a battery-powered cordless lawn mower. Battery-powered cordless lawn mowers are non-polluting but need a battery replacement every three to five years, which costs about $150 each time and generates hazardous waste. The more recent lithium-ion battery lawn mowers (56 v) are more expensive (around $600) but recharge much faster—in 30 to 90 minutes depending on the model. They’re as powerful as gas-powered lawn mowers but quieter. Some of them even have headlights!
- Reduce the size of your lawn by planting perennials, bushes, wildflower mixes, clover or low maintenance lawn mixes, which require less fertilizer and withstand drought. For large lawns, why not mow certain parts only once a year—when the plants have finished their natural growth and flowering cycle—and let plant diversity thrive.
- For the hard-to-convince, how about a lawn mower with a mulcher blade? Instead of ending up in a landfill where it will generate methane (a greenhouse gas more potent than CO2) , the cut grass will provide the lawn with 30% of its nutrient needs.
How to get rid of old lawn mowers responsibly
The best way to dispose of a gas-powered lawn mower and its battery, like any hazardous product, is to take it to an ecocentre to be recycled.
Here’s wishing you a quiet, green summer!
(1) EPA announces the final Phase 2 Standards for Small Spark-Ignition Handheld Engines: www3.epa.gov/otaq/regs/nonroad/equip-ld/hhsfrm/f00007.pdf
(2) « Mowdown pollution » version anglaise du programme « Coupez court à la pollution » : http://mowdownpollution.ca/; www.greenmattersfredericton.com/fr/resourcesgeneral/june2709-sonya.fr.pdf
(3) According to the Statistics Canada’s households and the environment survey (2007): http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/16-002-x/16-002-x2007002-eng.pdf
(5) Brochure of the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) « La pollution atmosphérique et votre santé » : www.myhealthunit.ca/en/livehealthyandprotectyourhealth/resources/EH-AirPollutionandYourHealthFrench.pdf
(6) A submission from the Ordre des orthophonistes et audiologistes du Québec [Quebec order of speech therapists and audiologists] for the public consultation on off-road vehicles in June 2000 includes a noise level and human response scale, also found at www.rqcb.ca/fr/donnees_de_base.php (Quebec Coalition Against Noise website - Table in French only)
(7) Comparative table on the Bruit et société [Noise and society] website: http://www.bruitsociete.ca/fr-ca/thematique_cat.aspx?catid=17&scatid=18 (French only)
(8) Environment and climate change Canada : http://www.ec.gc.ca/lcpe-cepa/fra/reglements/DetailReg.cfm?intReg=233#wb-cont
(9) Protégez-vous, May 2009, Tondeuse à gazon : conseils pour choisir le bon modèle [Lawn mowers: Choosing the right model]: http://www.protegez-vous.ca/maison-et-environnement/tondeuses.html
(10) Article written by Louis-Gilles Francoeur and published in Le Devoir in 2004: http://www.ledevoir.com/environnement/actualites-sur-l-environnement/52907/gare-aux-tondeuses
(11) EPA announces the Final Phase 2 Standards for Small Spark-Ignition Handheld Engines, March 2000: www3.epa.gov/otaq/regs/nonroad/equip-ld/hhsfrm/f00007.pdf
(12) Mowdown pollution: http://mowdownpollution.ca/; greenmattersfredericton.ca/en/resourcesGeneral/June2709-Sonya.pdf
(13) City of Granby’s by-law No. 0433 http://www.ville.granby.qc.ca/webconcepteurcontent63/000024200000/upload/QualiteDeVie/PolitiquesEnviro/2014-06-11_Codif0433-2013tondeuseecologiques.pdf
(14) www.ville.granby.qc.ca/fr/ville/nav/7C18/programmes.html (French only)
(15) Sheep, lambs are coming to Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/rosemont-sheep-lambs-grass-1.3526488
(17) Inertia Drive technology developed for Fiskars Staysharp Plus models
(18) Recommendation from Télé-Québec’s Légitime dépense consumer affairs show, Tondeuse à gazon [Lawn mowers]: http://legitimedepense.telequebec.tv/emission.aspx?id=76
(19) Télé-Québec’s Légitime dépense, February 13, 2012, episode: http://legitimedepense.telequebec.tv/occurrence.aspx?id=309 (French only)
(20) Ego Power+ lawn mower presented on the AVEQ website (Association des Véhicules Électriques du Québec or Quebec Association of Electric Vehicles]: http://www.aveq.ca/actualiteacutes/la-tesla-des-tondeuses-a-gazon-sans-fil-essai-de-la-ego-power-56-volts (French article with video in English)
(21) Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST): http://www.csst.qc.ca/en/prevention/reptox/Pages/fiche-complete.aspx?langue=a&no_produit=8896
Also seen in Futura Science www.futura-sciences.com:magazines:environnement:infos:qr:d:rechauffement-climatique-co2-methane-pire-565:
(22) Prevention section on the MDDELCC’s page on lawn maintenance du MDDELCC: http://www.mddelcc.gouv.qc.ca/pesticides/jardiner/pelouses.htm - prevention (French only); also seen at pelousedurable.com