Photograph by Tim Evans/Shutterstock
for National Geographic's Green Guide
There are basically three kinds of mowers: reel, rotary, and riding.
Reel mowers: Patterned after the scythe, a hand tool used to whack grass, the reel push mower is manual and creates zero air pollution. As more people become environmentally conscious, there has been a steady increase in the sale of push mowers.
Rotary mowers: These have internal combustion engines that usually run on gasoline. They have the benefit of more power than reel mowers, but the disadvantages of requiring much more regular maintenance and creating pollutants like carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.
Riding mowers: Riding mowers are often more appropriate for large lawns and are the most expensive option.
Going electric: For those who need a power boost to get the job done, electric models are available, with or without a cord, for both reel and riding mowers. These are sort of the Toyota Prius hybrids of the mower world, and more environmentally friendly than rotary models. The degree to which they pollute depends on the energy efficiency of the power plant from which the battery charge originated. Interestingly, electric riding mowers are becoming more common and they can usually cut about a half an acre before needing to be recharged.
Which mower you pick largely determines the cost to the environment. Consumer Reports and Clean Air Gardening provide nice resources to help you choose an environmentally friendly lawn mower.
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