That green lawn may not be so green: Gas-powered mowers are heavy polluters

Gas-powered lawn equipment in Arizona emitted 445,908 tons of carbon
dioxide in 2020, the polluting equivalent of putting 98,162 cars on the
road, a new report says.

The report
Monday by the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education
Fund also said gas-powered lawn mowers, blowers and trimmers contributed
985 tons of nitrogen oxides and 333 tons of fine particulate matter to
the air that year, the most recent for which numbers are available.

“Gasoline-powered lawn equipment produces really shocking amount of
air pollution right in the neighborhoods where we live and breathe,”
said Tony Dutzik, associate director and senior policy analyst at the
Frontier Group, who co-authored the report.

“These are pollutants like particulate matter and, you know,
pollutants that lead to the formation of ozone smog that we know in some
cases are linked to cancer, asthma attacks, other health problems,”
Dutzik said.

Replacing gas-powered lawn and garden equipment with electric
versions is one possible solution, the report said, either by
encouraging private individuals to make the switch or by having local
governments lead the way.

The first strategy is being pursued in Maricopa and Pima counties,
where residents can receive cash vouchers for new electric equipment
when they trade in their old gas-powered gear.

Diane E. Brown, executive director of the AzPIRG fund, said the programs “help consumers switch to electric equipment
that is better for their pocketbooks, air quality and public health.”

“The largest barrier that consumers typically face in purchasing
electric lawn equipment is the initial price tag. However, within one to
three years that can be alleviated due to lower fuel and maintenance
costs,” Brown said Monday.

The programs offer a $150 voucher toward the purchase of a
zero-emission mower for those who trade in their gas-powered models, and
a $50 voucher for electric equipment for those who turn in other items.

Natalie Shepp, the environmental planning manager for the Pima County
Department of Environmental Quality, said her county’s Cut Down
Pollution program began in early 2020. Since it began, more than 1,130
pieces of gas-powered equipment have been exchanged for vouchers.

“I do believe it has been successful,” Shepp said. “When we look at
the air pollution contribution to those pieces of equipment now that
they’re off the streets and recycled and being replaced with battery
power, manual or plug-in electric (equipment). I do think it has had an
impact and it is a beneficial program.”

The report said Pima County lawn equipment was responsible for
115,724 tons of carbon dioxide in 2020, the 45th highest among counties,
along with 271 tons of nitrogen oxide and 95 tons of fine particulate
matter.

Gas-powered equipment in Maricopa County added 233,413 tons of carbon
dioxide, the 13th-highest county in the country. They also contributed
498 tons of nitrogen oxide and 167 tons of fine particulate matter to
the air, the report said.

Both the Maricopa County and Pima County programs are funded by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Dutzik said programs like those “help speed this transition toward
cleaner equipment.” He said it’s important to provide financial
incentives for communities, but that cities could lead by example when
“making that change themselves.”

“Ultimately, you know, the financial incentives are a really great
way for people who are considering making the switch to get introduced
to it and to make it more common in our communities,” Dutzik said.
“There’s room here for … both incentives and for communities to really
begin to explore transitioning away from this equipment.”