Several weeks ago, our cheap $100 gas-powered push mower from Walmart (I know….) broke. Now, this thing has been a piece of crap since we bought it, but it got the job done and limped along for four years before it finally gave up the ghost. We used to live next door to a nice older couple, and the husband helped us tune it up once a year, showing us how to change the oil and filter and so on. Because of this, both of us have a reasonable idea how to tinker with the small gas engine inside the mower to keep it running. Anything repair needed beyond that is beyond me, and would need to be done by a professional.
Well, what happened was that the welding on one of the wheels loosened. The left rear wheel now sits parallel to the ground and is about to snap off. Since it’s not particularly safe to mow in this condition, we decided we had to do something.
A debate ensues
We had three options: Buy a new mower, buy a used mower, or try to get this one fixed. Four years ago when we bought the thing in the first place, the environment hadn’t been a consideration. At that point, we were your average environmentalists, and my efforts hadn’t yet reached the obsession stage. Now, there was no way we were replacing this mower in a way that wasn’t environmentally friendly.
Buy a new mower:
There were two advantages in this option. First, we could charge the mower, and with our current financial situation, that was a pretty big necessity. Second, we could buy something well-made, durable, and that would last a long time. This is important to the environmental movement – buy well-made things, and they last longer, meaning you ultimately buy less stuff. Plus, we talked about an electric mower, which we couldn’t find used.
However, it is always better to buy used than buy new. It doesn’t take any new manufacturing energy or resources to reuse something already made, but it takes tons of those resources to manufacture a new lawn mower, even one we’d vow to use for years to come.
Buy a used mower:
A used mower would likely be cheaper, but then again, we didn’t really have the cash to pay for it. Additionally, given my lack of knowledge or tools, I could easily buy a lemon of a lawn mower and not know it. Used machines tend to need a little more maintenance, and we’d need to pay someone to service the machine.
That said, a used mower was the more responsible option.
Repair our current mower:
I was in favor of this for awhile, but as Adam pointed out, our mower was junk, and even if we repaired it, something else would break soon, sort of the proverbial Band-Aid on a dead cat. We would have been prolonging the inevitable. We simply don’t have the expertise to rebuild a lawn mower.
We decided against this option, on one condition: the lawn mower finds a new home and does not head for the landfill. We’re still working on this. If you live in Pierce County, Washington, know how to weld, and want a free lawn mower, it’s yours.
Even after all this, we still weren’t happy. We were looking at spending $400-$500 on a high-quality mower, or buying something of questionable value if going the used route. Then I started remembering the things I hear about the negative impact of gas-powered mowers on the environment, and the issue became even muddier.
Gas mowers represent 5% of air pollution
According to this factsheet from the EPA, gas-powered mowers do quite a bit of damage to the environment. Apparently, Americans burn 800 million gallons of gas a year mowing lawns, and because lawn mowers aren’t as fuel efficient as cars, the impact of running a mower for an hour is much worse than driving a car for an hour. In fact, the EPA says that running a gas mower for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as driving 8 cars at 55 mph for the same amount of time. Yikes!
Plus, I spent a little time contemplating the absurdity of using gas to mow our lawns each week. I drive a car to work each day, but I can justify this as a necessity (in that where we live, I’d have to leave at 3:30 a.m. and catch 4 buses and walk a mile to work in order to take advantage of public transportation). Lawn mowing, on the other hand, is sheer vanity. I like a pretty, groomed lawn as much as the next person, but it’s hard to argue that our lawns are worth the fuel and water we spend on them.
A fourth option
My brother prompted us to consider a fourth option for a new mower. He purchased a push-reel mower, so I called him up and asked him about it. I had several concerns about buying a push mower, in spite of the obvious environmental benefit. These concerns included: the mower being too hard to use, the length of the cutting blades being too short (more passes over the lawn), and the quality of the cut. We had also been planning for our next mower to have a grass catcher. However, after hearing how much he liked the mower, we decided to pursue this option.
We went to Home Depot and bought a new push-reel mower for $149. One of the store clerks helped us find exactly what we were looking for. The blade length is 18 inches long (same length as our current mower), and we found a reel mower with a grass catcher! I didn’t even know they made such a thing.
After trying the push reel mower, we’re hooked. The first time mowing the lawn was a big pain in the butt, because we had let our grass grow too long, so the pushing was brutal. The next time over, a week later, the mowing was much easier, pleasant, even. It’s nice to be outside without the smell of gas fumes or the noise of the mower. Just the rapid snip-snip of the reel going round. We’ve found that the grass catcher works well only on a short lawn, so the trick when owning a reel mower is to mow the lawn once a week, rain or shine. Success!