I have been mowing the lawn since I purchased my first townhouse in the 1990s. At the time I owned a manual reel or push mower. The lawn I tended was as small as two king size bedspreads laid side by side so it wasn’t a whole lot to cut. But after mowing, the little green patch never quite looked like the other lawns in the neighborhood. Typically, multiple passes were necessary to get the grass height slightly level. An uneven lawn in suburbia? Oh the shame! And these were the days when I was single and would rather be doing anything but lawn maintenance and certainly my garden was not a priority. So when my neighbor asked me if I wanted to go in on a gas powered mower with her, I eagerly agreed.


Since I married and moved into our house on .24 acres 9 years ago, we’ve been using this same ol’ faithful noisy, toxin spewin’ mower.  I’ve always known the gas mower was environmentally unfriendly but like everything else that’s just plain bad, it takes time for me to decide to make a change. (Hey – it’s only been two decades). Now in our more experienced years, Marc and I have become, well, somewhat earthy crunchy.

Recently poking around the web for info, I found that the volatile organic compounds emitted by mowing with a gas powered engine for an hour  — compared to miles driven in an automobile — ranges from 45 miles to 350 miles to 1300 miles and all the way up to 3400 miles! (Naturally the EPA, who has sold their soul to the devil multiple times over, gives the 45 mile stat.)

High CO2 emissions are the evil effects of using an engine without a catalytic converter. According to Ecomowers, “One type of pollutant emitted by lawn mowers is polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These are classified as probable carcinogens by the CDC. In an hour’s mowing, twenty-six different PAHs were found in the exhaust of the mowers.” An unfathomable 54 million machines are roaring during an average weekend in the U.S. alone… you get the picture.

An environmentally sound push mower with thumbs up.
Achieve a zero carbon footprint while mowing your lawn.


Marc and I then discussed the option of purchasing a rechargeable battery powered mower. But the darn thing needs to be plugged in — like in, it uses electricity. Do you know where your power comes from? Our provider, Dominion Electric, supplies power to our area with a combination of five sources, coal and nuclear being the bulk of them. Coal, according to Greenpeace, is THE dirtiest form of power, and nuclear is neither cheap nor safe says the Physicians for Social Responsibility — no matter what the pro-industry ads may try to sell you. Also, the rechargeable battery could live a short three years. Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are not likely to be recycled and could end up in a nearby landfill.  Ultimately, it’s all about the conservation of our resources.

So… we opted for the only green solution — a push mower. I guess I’ve come full circle. We’ve reduced our lawn quite a bit to plant native trees, shrubs and perennials so there isn’t a whole lot of area to cut compared to other typical properties. A turf path was created in the front yard with an island habitat of critter and pollinator-attracting plants within its borders, but the back yard, although very much reduced, still has a decent chunk of turf.

When mowing, the blade height is set to four inches to help grass roots grow a bit deeper – an important function in times of drought or heavy rain.  We are also letting the clover thrive while we slowly reduce more of the grassy area. The clippings that are flung from the quietly spinning blades are left to lie where they fall and they will ultimately feed the lawn. Naturally, we never water and turf finds a way to survive.

The push mower’s cut still isn’t perfection but it’s just a lawn after all. I no longer need it to look manicured. We do need to keep on top of the mowing but now this usually distained ritual is actually kinda fun since we just grab the thing and go. I can even lift it. No noxious, cancer causing fumes, no noise pollution and no ear plugs needed. What is necessary is some muscle. So when it gets hot, Africa hot, 90+ degrees with what feels like 100% humidity, it makes me want to reduce our lawn even further. Power to the push mower!

Man up! The Art of Manliness sings the praises of the reel mower.

The Straight Dope has fun with the EPA stats.