Manual reel mowers and air pollution

Did you know that gasoline powered lawn equipment puts out serious amounts of air pollution, even though it only burns a comparatively small amount of gasoline?

Why is that?

As the New York Times puts it,

“That is because modern cars have microprocessors that can precisely control an engine’s mix of fuel and air; injectors to break the fuel into droplets of optimal size, and catalytic converters to catch anything that passes through the engine unburned.”

In the past decade, lawnmowers have gotten cleaner. And they are about to get cleaner again, when a new California standard comes into effect.

But even with those improvements, lawn equipment isn’t going to burn as cleanly as a car. It would add too much weight to lawn equipment, and it would make it prohibitively expensive. Maybe you could design the perfect catalytic converter for a lawnmower. But if it costs $600, then it might triple the cost of the mower! Most people would not be willing to pay that kind of money for an ultra clean lawnmower, even if it existed. (There are some commercial natural gas burning lawnmowers that are very clean burning, but I am not aware of any affordable consumer models.)

Here’s what the EPA has to say about lawnmowers and air pollution:

“Most people do not associate air pollution with mowing the lawn. Yet emissions from lawn mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, leaf vacuums, and similar outdoor power equipment are a significant source of pollution. Today’s small engines emit high levels of carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. They also emit hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides, pollutants that contribute to the formation of ozone. While ozone occurs naturally in the upper atmosphere and shields the earth from harmful radiation, ozone at ground level is a noxious pollutant. Ground-level ozone impairs lung function, inhibits plant growth, and is a key ingredient of smog.

Emission control for small gasoline engines has not been a crucial design consideration until now. Consequently, small engines are big polluters. And power equipment users inadvertently contribute to the problem by carelessly handling fuel and by improperly maintaining their equipment.”

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution for people with small to medium sized lawns: a push reel lawnmower. You don’t need any gasoline to run a push reel mower, because it’s powered by your arms and legs. The only noise comes from grunting, and if there are any issues with exhaust, well, the pharmacy has pills for that.