As activities go, gardening sounds about as green as you can get, right? Well, no, not if you're using anything more than old-fashioned hand tools to do it.
Mowing your yard for an hour with a gas-powered lawnmower pollutes as much as eight new cars driving for an hour at 55 mph, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Over the course of a year, the typical mower emits 87 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Altogether, gas lawn mowers, hedge trimmers, and Weedwackers produce an average of 5 percent of the United States' air pollution and a much higher percentage in densely populated areas. Then there's the fossil fuel usage: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans consume 800 million gallons of gas a year mowing their lawns. Don't forget the gas spilled by our clumsy attempts to fill our lawnmowers, which comes to 17 million gallons a year, potentially contaminating groundwater and adding volatile organic compounds and ozone to the atmosphere as it evaporates.
We're not putting this problem behind us; almost 55 million Americans mow their lawns every weekend, and more than 5 million gas-powered mowers are sold in the U.S. every year.
There is some good news: Since 2011, when new EPA smog standards went into effect for motorized garden tools, manufacturers have had to cut emissions from new models by at least 35 percent. But that's still a lot of pollution over the course of your lawn's lifetime. Want to make a change? Here are five eco-friendly gardening tools that you can feel good about using.
1. Push Mowers Let's start with the basics. A push mower puts out zero pollution and gives you a good workout too. Forget the arm-straining rust-encrusted rattletrap in your grandfather's shed. Today's modern models weigh as little as 16 pounds and promise blades that can stay sharp for up to 10 years.
2. Electric Mowers Probably the most favored alternative to gas-powered mowers, electric mowers come in all sizes and styles. The popular and affordable ones are the plug-in corded models, which work like the outdoor version of a vacuum cleaner. While dragging a cord around behind you can be a hassle, corded mowers are considerably lighter because they don't have to carry a battery.
3. Electric Weed and Hedge Trimmers If you're visualizing an electric cord tangling around your ankles, you're behind the times. Cordless electric hedge trimmers from companies such as Earthwise and GreenWorks have batteries that recharge from a plug in your garage.
4. Battery-Powered Mowers and Tools It took a team of high-tech developers to come up with the Recharge mowers, powered by a 36-volt lithium-ion battery that regains its full charge in less than two hours. Other brands making rechargeable cordless mowers include Neuton, Sun Joe, and old favorites such as Black & Decker and Craftsman.
5. The Cordless Toolbox From corded to battery-powered, electric versions of your favorite tools—including chain saws, tillers, and leaf blowers—are hitting the market. But don't even think about leaf blowers—they're so noisy there's no way they can be environmentally friendly.
One of the best sources for information on this topic, as well as the biggest selection of eco-friendly electric mowers, is People Powered Machines. No worries if you have a big lawn to mow; there's an electric riding mower too.
No matter how you mow and trim, gardening gives back to the earth in a big way—the Union of Concerned Scientists even offers a guide to combating global warming by gardening.