Jun 2, 2021

Keeping the air clean in your own backyard this summer

Posted by: lsackett


*Scroll to the bottom of this post for details about our Clean Air Day Competition!

We have a lot of things to be proud of here in Prince George: strong community spirit, boundless nature at our doorstep, premier cross-country skiing, a budding local restaurant scene and - perhaps more than anything else - our prize-worthy lawns.

But as many of us know from experience, it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice to keep up a beautiful lawn. One not-so-obvious sacrifice we make is to the quality of the air we breathe and to the health of our communities when we use gas-powered machinery to maintain a pristine green. 

Environmental impacts

The two-stroke engine is a dying breed of machinery that is primarily encountered by Canadians nowadays in lawn and gardening tools like leaf blowers, chainsaws and older lawn mowers. Two-stroke engines are cheap and have better power-to-weight ratios than their four-stroke counterparts, but they’re also vastly dirtier and more inefficient, spewing out as much as one third of their fuel as unburned aerosols that contain nasty compounds like: 

  • fine particulate matter (harmful to the respiratory and circulatory systems);
  • hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen (carcinogenic and principal ingredients of smog);
  • carbon dioxide (a major contributor to climate change); and
  • carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas).

Newer machines tend to produce fewer emissions, but they are still far worse for the environment than car engines. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, operating a typical lawn mower for an hour is equivalent to an average vehicle traveling 480 kilometres. Likewise, the California Air Resources Board estimates that operating 2017’s best-selling commercial leaf blower for an hour produces as much pollution as driving a 2017 Toyota Camry 1,760 kilometers. That’s the equivalent of driving from Prince George to Whitehorse, Yukon! 

And unlike cars, our gas-powered lawn care equipment runs at full-throttle in one place, concentrating exhaust in our own backyards. 

Health impacts

The upshot of all this? Using gas-powered tools to achieve a beautiful lawn contributes to high levels of localized emissions that expose nearby individuals to unnecessary and preventable health risks. 

For example, ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter, which are emitted from gas-powered machinery, have been linked to conditions like heart attack, stroke, asthma and even cancer. Mounting evidence suggests that these pollutants may also contribute to developmental delays, neurological disorders and reproductive harm. Children, older adults and folks with pre-existing conditions are at particularly high risk. 

Beyond creating harmful emissions, they also generate noise well above the threshold at which hearing loss can occur, potentially impacting anyone nearby who isn’t wearing hearing protection. 


Canada has about 6.2 million lawns covering 142,000 acres of land. Approximately 58% of lawn mowers across the country are still gas-powered, suggesting that 3.9 million lawns are being maintained with gas-powered equipment. That’s a lot of room for improvement!

Fortunately, there are many ways to keep our yards looking top-notch without creating nasty emissions that are hard on our health and the planet. 

  1. Switch to electric.
    Electric alternatives have come a long way in the past decade and are now about as powerful as their gas-powered counterparts. Electric mowers and other lawn care equipment don’t totally eliminate pollution, but emissions from the electric industry are more regulated and they’re not in your backyard. Switching to electric also helps with noise pollution, saves on gas spills (which contribute to smog formation) and reduces emissions from gas refineries and transportation.

    The folks at Popular Mechanics have published a great review of the best electric lawn mowers in 2021, many of which are available from local stores like Lowes and Home Depot.
    ***Enter into our prize draw for a Greenworks 80V 21" Mower and 80V 16" String Trimmer Combo (valued at approximately $800)!***
  2. Cut back on the frequency of mowing. 
    By cutting back, you’ll burn less fuel and score a healthier lawn! Taller blades receive more sunlight and shade the soil, which in turn improves moisture retention and reduces water needs. Given that half to three-quarters of all municipally treated water in Canada is used for lawns, this last point is a major bonus.
  3. Leave your grass clippings to decompose on the lawn.
    Feel good about being lazy and let those clippings lie. They add nutrients to the soil in place of fertilizers manufactured from fossil fuels, and they’re much cheaper too!
  4. Replace some (or all!) of your grass with low-maintenance landscape features.
    Join the “no-mow” movement and reduce the size of your lawn by incorporating native flowers, shrubs and trees into your yard. Check out this website for some ideas to get you started.

Changing the way we care for our lawns is just one of many ways that individuals can get involved with creating a healthier, more livable city. Although adopting electric lawn equipment might not seem like much, remember that small and simple actions taken by many people can make a big difference in the quality of the air we all breathe!


Take our five minute survey to enter into PGAIR's Clean Air Day Competition for a Greenworks 80V 21" Mower and 80V 16" String Trimmer Combo (valued at approximately $800)!


Good luck!