The Environmental Impact of String Trimmers
A string trimmer, often called a 'strimmer' or 'weed-whacker,' is a garden tool used for trimming grass or weeds with greater precision than a lawn mower, and in closer proximity to lawn edges, such as by a fence or foundation. Unfortunately, as we’ll examine in detail below, gas-powered string trimmers can be hazardous to health and the environment.
When you're considering a string trimmer, you have two main types to choose from: gas or oil-powered trimmers, and electric trimmers. Within the electric subtype, you can use a corded electric trimmer, or a battery-powered, cordless unit. Both have their benefits, though the gas-powered variety have the greater share of drawbacks, as we'll discuss below.
Gas-powered variants typically come with more power under the hood, and so will likely be better suited to tackling substantial growths of grass and weeds. On the other hand, corded-electric string trimmers can often be much easier to maneuver and thus better for lighter tasks, saving you from tiring quickly. Battery-powered electric trimmers are essentially as heavy as gas-powered machines, as well as often matching them on power.
Research conducted in 2011 has highlighted the pollution problems posed by a range of gas-powered lawn equipment, including string trimmers. Analysis of the US EPA's national emissions inventory indicated that during this year, emissions from gas-powered engines used in the design of lawn equipment resulted in around 41 billion lbs. of CO2, as well as around 13 billion lbs. of air pollutants classed as toxic and/or carcinogenic.
What’s also concerning is that the problem is even worse for string trimmers – and leaf blowers – owing to their 2-stroke engines, which burn a compound consisting of oil and gas, emitting fine particulate matter and ozone-forming chemicals.
According to FairWarning, such ultrafine particles are an unregulated threat that pose serious concerns for those who are regularly in contact with them. Their ability to be inhaled deeply into the lungs means that they may have a greater chance to lead to long-term health problems. As a result, anybody who’s concerned about the environmental impact afforded by gas-powered string trimmers would do well to consider the alternatives available.
Though air pollution is likely your primary concern with these types of trimmers, noise pollution should also be considered. The gas-powered engines used to power a variety of lawn mowers, string trimmers and other devices can produce an unreasonable amount of noise during operation. This can be a problem not only for those living in the immediate vicinity, but also the person operating the machinery.
The immediate issue for you as an operator of such machinery revolves around the risk of hearing damage that could occur from repeated bouts of prolonged use. However, the level of noise produced can also be disruptive not only for residents in the surrounding area, but potentially for wildlife that has built its home within your garden.
Through the use of gas or oil for standard operation, a string trimmer powered by such a compound can have further environmental impacts beyond simple air pollution. A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that continuous spillage of gasoline onto ground surfaces could result in public health risks, without the spillage needing to be significant; the cumulative effects of such spillages could soon add up.
Aside from the fumes produced by gas-powered engines being toxic, gasoline itself usually contains harmful or potentially harmful chemicals, such as benzene, a carcinogenic. Even when spilled onto a concrete surface, the gasoline can still lead to contamination of groundwater and soil in the immediate vicinity, posing a threat to human or wildlife.
Alternatives to gas-powered string trimmers
If you're looking to do away with a gas or oil-powered string trimmer, then the good news is that there are alternatives. Electric trimmers will give the environment a break in terms of air pollution, typically being powered by either AC main power on a cord, or via a lithium ion battery, for example; neither of these solutions give off poisonous fumes, though they will of course still result in some extent of noise pollution.
Gas-powered string trimmers come with their advantages and drawbacks. However, for their pure power alone, they can often be matched by a battery-powered equivalent. This raises the question as to whether it’s worth investing in a gas-powered alternative at all, given the substantial potential for environmental and even health risks. I’m of the opinion that if you can achieve the same results from a machine that won’t damage the environment, then it’s worth the investment.