Volume 13, Issue 28 ~ July 14 - 20, - 2005

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Mowing Down Pollution
Why I’m pushing my lawn mower — and loving it
by Maureen Miller

Ah, the lazy sounds of summer, birds chirping, insects buzzing, breezes rustling through the trees — and the inevitable roar of lawn tending.

It wasn’t the noise pollution that sent me searching for a new lawnmower. It was a simple spring tune-up. That’s a job I had learned since my husband and I traded our most disliked jobs. He took over food shopping and cooking; I took over lawn and garden maintenance.

In the past, ordering a combo pack of tune-up parts — spark plugs, air filters and the like — was easy. Going online, I’d put in my lawn mower model and, bingo, the combo pack would show up at my doorstep within two days. This time, however, it wasn’t so easy. When I entered the model, I was told the order couldn’t be handled online because my mower was too old — seven years. I would have to go to the store to find the parts.

As long as I was online, I decided to research lawn mowers.
Who Knew?
Googling opinions lawnmowers led me to some interesting sites and some scary facts about power mowers. What I learned should interest us who live in Bay Country and are concerned about preserving this precious resource as well as our health.
Fact 1: Ground Pollution
More fuel is spilt each year filling up garden equipment — lawn mowers, string trimmers, chipper shredders and the like — than was lost in the entire Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. This scary fact is reported by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Task Group on Environmentally and Economically Beneficial Landscaping.         
Fact 2: Air Pollution
The average gas mower produces as much air pollution in one year as 43 new cars driving 12,000 miles each. Nationwide, gas-powered mowers are estimated to produce as much as one-tenth of the smog-forming pollutants from all mobile sources. This scary fact is reported by the South Coast Air Quality Management District in California.
Fact 3: Noise Pollution

The typical two-stroke gas-powered lawn mower subjects the operator to 85 to 95 decibels; mowing a quarter-acre lot pollutes 100 acres of neighborhood with noise. This scary fact is reported by the Noise Pollution Clearing House, a nonprofit agency, in their 2004 publication Quiet Lawns.

The World Health Organization and the Environmental Protection Agency both recommend that people limit their total exposure to 45 minutes per day for the quieter gas mowers, 15 minutes for the average mowers and five minutes for the loudest ones. If you are using an average gas-powered mower, they recommend wearing ear protection — unless you can finish the job in 15 minutes and spend the rest of the day in peace and quiet.
What’s My Choice?
Thousands of people are turning in their gas-powered mowers for electric mowers. Since these mowers require no gasoline or oil and are half as noisy as their gas-powered counterparts, cities and states around the country are encouraging this by offering lawn mower exchange programs. The Maryland Department of Transportation offered such a program in 2004.

“While this program was not intended as a cure-all,” says Jack Cahalan, transportation spokesman, “it certainly was a positive step in creating awareness of the polluting aspects of old gas cans and lawn mowers.”

The program wasn’t repeated this year, Cahalan said, because it requires so much organization. The state department had partnered with Pepco, Home Depot and Black and Decker, and mower exchanges were made at the Comcast Center at the University of Maryland.

Electric mowers, which are easy to start and require little maintenance, come in two flavors — corded and cordless. The corded models are lighter and less expensive — $125 to $250 — than their cordless counterparts, which run $380 and up. However, they are recommended only for small lawns, as their cutting area is limited by the 100-foot extension cord you have to drag around. Most cordless models, on the other hand, are designed to cut up to 6,000 square feet of lawn on a single battery charge. There’s a third option: robotic models, well into the $1,000 range. Reviews report mowing 22,000 plus square feet with no effort, as the little robot goes back home to be recharged.

I liked learning that electric models generate about half the noise of their gas-powered counterparts, but I was being drawn to the almost silent reel push mowers. These mowers are built on a basic concept: You push, it mows. They also kill two birds with one stone by giving you both exercise and a scissors-trimmed, healthy looking lawn.

The reel push mower, invented in 1830 by Englishman Edwin Budding, was the standard for all homeowners before rotary power mowers were introduced after World War II. Today’s push reel mowers are a far cry from the ones some of us were forced to use as kids. The latest models are lightweights — weighing in at 16 to 30 pounds — compared to the 40-to 60-pound models of the past. They are quiet, safe to operate and virtually maintenance-free. The blades of the less expensive models will need sharpening once a year, but for $200 you can get a model with blades that will cut for eight or more years without sharpening.
Pushing Merrily Along
Now I push, and it mows.

My husband claims it takes me twice as long to mow my 4,500-square-foot lawn with my reel push mower. Part of the reason is that some grasses in my lawn are more difficult to cut and take several runs across. But the main reason is that I stop more often to listen to the birds, observe nature, do a little weeding, look over my flower beds and drink more water.

I’m convinced that I am saving time, money and my health with this switch. I save time, in less noticeable ways, too. I no longer need to run all the gas out of the mower at the end of the season or pour the old oil into a proper disposal container and take it to the dump. I save money as I no longer shop for new filters and spark plugs each season or fill up my gas can every month. I’m investing in my health, too, getting a good aerobic workout and toning both my upper and lower body each time I take my lawn mover for a spin.

Best of all, instead of contributing noise and air pollution to my neighborhood, I enjoy the pleasant whirr of blades and smell fresh-cut grass while I mow.
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About the Author
Maureen Miller — who came to Chesapeake Country for the natural peacefulness it offered in juxtaposition to a job in an international organization in D.C. — now shares her discoveries of the area with readers of Bay Weekly. Her last story, on the Annapolis to Newport sailing race, appeared June 9.

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