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Tamminen: Greening Your Lawn

Thursday, 20 May 2010 | 10:40 AM ET
Man mowing and woman watering lawn
Stephen Simpson | Workbook Stock | Getty Images
Man mowing and woman watering lawn

One good thing about snow is that it makes your lawn look as nice as your neighbor's. But with most of the snow across the nation now gone and lawn mowers emerging from their annual hibernation beneath rusting lawn furniture and pieces of an above ground pool in the garage, there’s one sure-fire way to have the greenest lawn in the neighborhood this summer. How? Go carbon free.

First, trade in the old gas mower for a battery-electric model. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a gasoline push mower emits eleven times the pollution of a car and the riding variety does as much damage to the atmosphere as thirty four car tailpipes.

Toro , Black & Decker , and Neuton are among several equipment manufacturers that sell cordless, rechargeable mowers at prices equal to those with polluting gas engines. It’s cheaper to fill your battery with electricity than to fill a tank with a comparable amount of energy in the form of gasoline and the electric models need no maintenance or tune-ups. Ditto the old weed-whacker, leaf blower, or edge trimmer.

Next, dump the petroleum-based fertilizers for organic alternatives like corn meal. Buy it in bulk at a feed store or even on Amazon.com and apply about 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet of lawn. Use the slightly more expensive corn gluten meal if weeds are a problem, but either version will be cheaper than chemical weed-and-feed products, which pollute waterways when rain flushes them away and which create tons of carbon in the manufacture and use of the products. Ditto the toxic “greening” products for lawns—use cheap Epsom salts instead, which increase magnesium levels in your soil and result in greener grass for less carbon and less money.

Got pests? Acre for acre, Americans dumped about ten times more petroleum-based pesticides on lawns last year than on farmland, killing over sixty million birds and fouling drinking water supplies around cities in the process.

Organic pest control products have proven more effective, because pests don’t develop immunity as they do to toxic chemical varieties. Products like Orange Guard, and others made from lemon and orange peels, do the dirty work by destroying the waxy coating of the insect's respiratory system. Other products use peppers to repel pests, but all of these organic products are low-carbon alternatives that save money and protect the health of pets and kids when they play on the lawn.

Finally, if you are more radical about cutting both carbon and cost you might just cover your lawn with solar panels or dump your gym membership in favor of a workout behind an old-fashioned push mower.

The Carbon Challenge - A CNBC Special Report - See Complete Coverage
The Carbon Challenge - A CNBC Special Report - See Complete Coverage

In any case, using these tips for a low carbon lawn will save you more than enough “green” to buy a battery powered snow blower or an old-fashioned shovel before next winter when, once again, the snow makes all lawns equal

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Terry Tamminen, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, is a partner at Pegasus Sustainable Century Merchant Bank and the Cullman Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation. (Cracking The Carbon Code is a registered trademark of Terry Tamminen).

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