The Electric Lawn Brigade: Quiet & Climate Friendly
On Saturday, October 6, Sierra Club's West Hartford CT Ready for 100 team members Samantha Dynowski and Julia Farber, alongside other volunteers, showcased electric lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and string trimmers at the town's annual Park Road Parade.
The group marched behind a banner reading "The Electric Lawn Brigade: Quiet & Climate Friendly" to call attention to lawn care tools that are quieter and don't produce harmful emissions. Air pollution and noise caused by lawn care equipment have long been a concern. With electric lawn mowers now widely available and affordable, the West Hartford team and sustainability advocates hope to educate the town about the alternative tools that can use clean energy sources. The message was well-received and well-timed, as the West Hartford Conservation and Environment Commission is currently taking comments on "Noise Pollution and Landscaping Tools."
The facts about lawn mower air pollution may surprise you. After all, mowers aren't very big, and most lawns aren't either. But an article about the environmental impact of lawn mowers includes an estimate by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute that, on average, people use their lawn mowers for 25 hours a year, which for typical lawn mowers is the equivalent in emissions of driving 2330 miles (see The Environmental Impact of Lawn Mowers). The mowers emit high levels of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and nitrogen oxides, and they produce approximately 5% of the nation's air pollution. It's estimated that in one hour a gas-powered lawn mower produces volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides emissions air pollution equal to 11 new cars each being driven for one hour (Cleaner Air : Gas Mower Pollution Facts from People Powered Machines).
Another surprising statistic: fuel spilled accidentally while filling mowers amounts to millions of gallons of fuel every year. In addition to groundwater contamination, the spilled fuel evaporates into the air, causing additional air pollution.
In addition to the potential for clean energy sources for electric mowers and less air pollution at the point of use, electric lawn equipment is quieter than gas-powered equipment. One estimate is that noise levels are approximately 90 decibels (dB) for a gas-powered mower compared with about 75dB for an electric mower. One electric leaf blower lists the noise level at only 59dB. Compare that to information at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation that "A leaf blower rated at 70dB at 50 feet may generate noise levels over 105dB at the operator's ears."
Electric lawn and landscape equipment are not the only answers. Sustainability advocates, including those in West Hartford, know that other actions can reduce the amount of space devoted to grass, such as planting bushes, trees, and flowers that improve the soil, take carbon dioxide out of the air, provide food for birds, and support pollinators. In your town, consider advocating for limiting or phasing out gas-powered equipment and converting municipal grassy areas to more environmentally sound uses.
Get Involved in Your Town
The banner, "The Electric Lawn Brigade: Quiet & Climate Friendly", is available for other groups to use. Does your town have an event that you can plan for? Get creative and go beyond what West Hartford could arrange in the short preparation time available due to uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic. We had music (The Electric Boogie) but didn't have time to choreograph and rehearse a short routine to use during brief pauses or while moving forward. Go for it, and take a video of your action!
Note: As this article goes to press, legislation was signed into law in California that requires new small off-road engines such as lawn mowers to be zero emissions by 2024. Stay tuned for developments.
Christine Feely is a Sierra Club member and volunteer.