EarthTalk: Greener ways to cut the grass

Electric mowers – corded and battery-operated – get good marks for smaller lawns, but they’re not cheap.

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    A cordless Black & Decker lawn mower being used on a lawn in New Paltz, N.Y. Batteries on cordless models last 30 to 60 minutes, so they work best for smaller lawns.
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Q: What’s available now in lawn mowers that are easier on the environment? My yard is too big for one of those “reel” mowers, and I’m no longer a spring chicken, so I have to buy something that runs on more than human power. What’s out there?
Joel Klein, Albany, N.Y.

A: According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average home­owner’s gas-powered lawn mower pumps out as much pollution per hour as 11 automobiles do.

So what’s a green-minded property owner to do about keeping the grass down? Go electric!

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Electric mowers, which either plug into an outlet via a long cord or run on rechargeable batteries, create no exhaust emissions when in operation and run much cleaner than their gas-powered counterparts. They also need less maintenance, with no spark plugs or belts to worry about and are easier to use, as they tend to be smaller and come with push-button starters.

The icing on the cake might be the fact that electric mowers are cheaper to run, using about as much electricity as an ordinary toaster. Most electric mower owners spend about $5 a year on electricity to keep their grass trimmed. The nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute reports that replacing half of the 1.3 million or so gas mowers in the US with electric models would be like taking 2 million cars off the road, in terms of emissions.

Going electric has some trade-offs. Electric mowers tend to cost up to $150 more than their gas-powered counterparts, and the plug-in varieties can only go 100 feet from the closest outlet without an extension cord. Cordless models last only 30 to 60 minutes on a charge, depending on battery size and type, though that’s sufficient for the average lawn (just remember to recharge it in time for the next mow).

And, of course, just because electric mowers don’t consume fossil fuels or spew emissions directly doesn’t mean they are totally green-friendly. Most household electricity comes from coal-fired power plants, the dirtiest of all energy sources. Running an electric mower on electricity generated from clean and renewable sources (solar, wind, or hydro power) would be the greenest of all.

For those ready to take the electric mower plunge, the Greener Choices website, a project of Consumer Reports, gives high marks to Black & Decker’s corded ($230) and cordless ($400) models for their efficiency, reliability, and ease of use. Corded models from Worx and Homelite (both around $200) also fared well, along with cordless offerings from Craftsman, Homelite, Remington and Neuton ($300-$450).

Got an environmental question? Write: EarthTalk, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or: earthtalk@emagazine.com

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