Looking out the window at an office building lawn the other day, I noticed the grass was short, brown-to-yellow – and being shaved by men on two buzzing gas-powered ride mowers. It was Monday, and it turns out that lawn is cut every Monday in the warm months, whether it needs it or not.
Although a debate has been going on about whether we need the American lawn at all – instead of, say, native plantings and ground cover – a more immediate, less controversial change in practice might be a simple reduction in the frequency of cutting our grass. It’s an environmental issue in more than an aesthetic way.
It may be a little difficult to believe, but according to the U.S. EPA, one conventional gas-powered lawn mower emits as many pollutants as 8 new vehicles driving 55 miles per hour for the same period of time. EPA also estimates lawn care equipment contributes up to 5% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, over 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while Americans refuel lawn equipment. That’s more than famously spilled into the Gulf of Alaska by the Exxon Valdez in 1989. EPA is working to impose performance requirements on gas-powered lawn care equipment, but there’s no reason we need to wait for the rules to take effect.
Imagine trimming grass only when it’s a little shaggy – let’s say, half as often. That could be called the half-grass solution. Multiplied by tens of millions of lawns, that would result in a dramatic reduction in pollution.
In periods of hot, dry summertime weather, which Minnesota always has (and seems to have more of now), it’s not a big sacrifice to let the grass go a little brown, either. It will reduce your water bill, too, just as reducing your gas-powered lawn mower will reduce your petroleum payments.
What could be more of a win-win? Mow less, save money, and enjoy more time in your hammock.