|Musing on Mowing, part 2:
Stop and Smell the ... Exhaust?
Before lawnmowers, lawns were cut with scythes. Edwin Budding, who worked in a weaving mill in England, used a machine which trimmed the pile on cloth. He adapted its design to produce the first lawnmower, marketed in 1832. Mowing became so much easier, they caught on fast. In 1842, some were horse-drawn; fifty years later, steam-driven; at the turn of the century, gasoline-powered.
Until 1995, lawnmower emissions were unregulated; a lawnmower polluted much worse than a car. (In addition, some used more powerful but less efficient two-cycle engines, which release 25-30% of their oil and gas unburned into the air.)
Gas mowers emit hydrocarbons (a principle ingredient of smog), particulate matter (damaging to the respiratory system), carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas) and carbon dioxide (contributing to global warming). The health toll includes cancer as well as damage to lungs, heart, and both the immune and detoxification systems. Plus smog inhibits plant growth.
EPA regulations are reducing mower emissions. Two-cycle engines are disappearing. Of course the new engines are more expensive and as Glen Shepherd of Shepherd's Sales and Service in Townsend says, "The equipment is no longer simple to work on." They do still smell. It's getting harder to ignore; more and more people are chemically sensitive.
Electric mowers don't eliminate pollution; electric power generation creates important amounts, and regulations on industry are currently being rolled back. Still you don't fill the yard with it every time you mow.
We had one of the electric models with a cord having to swing it around out of the way all the time was a bother. Battery-operated mowers can mow small to medium-sized yards on one charge. They're less powerful than gas mowers, but cost less, and need no tuneups plus you don't have to lug cans of gas around and try to avoid polluting by its spilling or evaporating.
Photocell rechargers are being developed. For a while, Toro sold a machine made by Friendly Robotics, which did the job by itself: looking like a giant metal bug, it patrolled within the magnetic field established by a perimeter wire. In Europe, Flymo sells an electric mower that hovers, making it easier to handle but also quite dangerous. Another option: electric reel mowers give a cleaner cut.
Choosing the right equipment was easy for us: what we want to smell is the flowers and the new-mown grass.
© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark