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Your Lawn & Fossil Fuel

With the price of gasoline and heating oil skyrocketing, we’ve begun to hear a lot of grumbling about the price of fertilizers for lawns and gardens in the upcoming season. Honestly, that makes me somewhat of a contrarian in that I’m happy about the price increase . . . Really.

When the price of fossil fuel goes up, people begin to look for alternatives, many of which are far more environmentally friendly. Organic lawn care becomes far more price competitive, even without factoring in all the benefits like reduced mowing frequency and water reduction.

Here’s an overview of all the ways that fossil fuel impacts your lawn:

WHEN YOU THINK of lawn care and its impact on energy sources, the act of mowing the grass is probably what comes first to mind. Traditional lawn care, in fact, consumes oil and natural gas in numerous ways:

1) Mowing — Yale University has estimated that the U.S. uses more than 600,000,000 gallons of gas to mow and trim lawns each year, or about two gallons of gas for every man, woman and child, or five gallons per household. Mowers also consume additional engine oil in their crankcases and two-stroke mowers consume oil in their fuel.
2) Watering — According to a California study, in many areas — especially in the West where water must be moved great distances from reservoirs — the amount of fuel needed to pump the water is at least equal to the fuel used in mowing.
3) Fertilizing — Creating synthetic nitrogen requires the heating of natural gas to 750 to 1,200 degrees to combine atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen into ammonia in the Haber-Bosch process. The amount of natural gas required to make approximately 200 bags of lawn fertilizer would heat your home for a year. Each 40-pound bag contains the fossil fuel equivalent of approximately 2.5-3 gallons of gasoline. Transporting these bags of fertilizer from the factory and to your home requires additional fuel.
4) Cleanup — Power blowers, brooms and rakes also use fuel. Additional resources are consumed when yard wastes are removed to the landfill or incinerator.

Average fuel consumption per household: A family with a third-acre lawn will: a) consume 5 gallons in mowing and trimming; b) apply the equivalent of 7 gallons in fertilizing; c) burn up to 5 gallons for watering; and d) consume an additional gallon for cleanup. That’s 18 gallons of fuel per household. At U.S. 120,000,000 households, that’s the equivalent of almost 2.2 billion gallons of fuel used on lawn care each year.

Alternatives

1) Mowing — Use an electric or push mower. An electric mower maintaining a third acre for a season consumes only $3 of electricity on average. Electric mowers are 75 percent quieter than gas mowers. Push mowers, of course, consume no fuel and make little noise.
2) Watering — Avoid large lawns in areas with water shortages. Grow drought-tolerant grasses. Save rainwater and gray water. Water deeply once per week on average, rather than frequently.
3) Fertilizing — Use natural, organic fertilizers not derived from fossil fuels. Recycle grass clippings, mow higher and mix 5 percent clover into your lawn seed.
4) Cleanup — Compost everything. All yard wastes can go into compost piles.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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