Start receiving our award-winning magazine today!


Everyday Environmentalist

Get Reel with Your Mower

A single gas-powered mower emits 80 pounds of CO2 a year.

"If you've got a small or medium-size yard, skip the engine altogether and use a reel mower."

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, blogger

By Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

Six years ago, after my wife and I purchased our first house together, I went shopping for a lawn mower.

Our yard is small (we live in an urban neighborhood), so rather than buying a smog-belching gas mower, or even a much more efficient electric mower, I invested in a reel mower. Yep, one of those “old fashioned” lawn mowers you probably once saw at your grandparents’ house…which are now in vogue among the eco-conscious set.

My decision was based on the obvious lack of pollution created by the reel mower. But at the time, I didn’t realize just how significant the difference was.

A 2001 Swedish study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology argued that cutting the grass for one hour with a gasoline-powered mower creates about as much air pollution as a 100-mile car ride: up to 4,000 micrograms per hour of potentially cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the worst case.

The study didn’t address carbon emissions, but the EPA claims that a single gas-powered mower emits 80 pounds of CO2 a year. The Swedish study recommended catalytic converters on lawn mower engines; a new small-engine emissions standard from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will make that mandatory in 2011 or 2012.

I say: Beat the rush and avoid any emissions. If you’ve got a small or medium-size yard, skip the engine altogether and use a reel mower.

In addition to keeping your yard presentable without any emissions, you’ll also receive a slight health benefit: You’ll burn between 400 and 500 calories per hour, versus the 250–350 you spend behind a power-assisted mower.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not represent those of The Nature Conservancy.

We’re Accountable

The Nature Conservancy makes careful use of your support.

More Ratings

x animal

Sign up for Nature eNews!

Sign Up for Nature e-News

Get our e-newsletter filled with eco-tips and info on the places you care about most.

Thank you for joining our online community!

We’ll be in touch soon with more Nature Conservancy news, updates and exciting stories.

Please leave this field empty

We respect your privacy. The Nature Conservancy will not sell, rent or exchange your e-mail address. Read our full privacy policy for more information. By submitting this form, you agree to the terms of use.