Garden Equipment and the environment – why we have moved to electric equipment

Milligan Gardens has gone electric…our lawn mowers, edge trimmers, and leaf blowers are powered by lithium batteries to provide Southern Tasmania’s first zero emissions lawn care service.

Why have we done this?

For several reasons…

Firstly, on a purely selfish level, electric equipment is much more pleasant to use. There is less vibration, less noise (many machines can be used with no hearing protection!), there is no muffler belching toxic exhaust fumes into the operator’s lungs, and no handling of petrol. This alone is good enough reason to make the switch…but it’s only scratching the surface…

Small engines are dirty…really dirty! One average lawnmower operated for an hour emits as much pollution as 40 modern cars being driven for that same hour. Forty!!! That’s not a typo…

Why are garden machines so bad? Well, for a start they are relatively crude. A modern car will have computer controlled electronic fuel injection and mapped ignition to ensure clean burn at all times and the best possible economy, some of the best can  even turn 30% of the energy in fuel into useful work! They have a catalytic converter on the exhaust to reduce pollutants. They have a sealed fuel system with vapour recovery equipment to prevent volatile hydrocarbon emissions. There is onboard diagnostics to alert the operator if there is a malfunction in the system.

By contrast, a lawnmower has a simple engine, many are still being built with side valve configuration! They use a basic carburettor, straight exhaust, magneto ignition, and have a vented fuel tank which will evaporate your entire tank of fuel in a few weeks in the summer…. Many garden tools are also 2 stroke, which burn oil as well as petrol, and up to 30% of the petrol/oil mixture leaves the exhaust unburned……

It is estimated that 4% of all volatile hydrocarbon emissions in Australia are from lawn mowers, and approximately 5% of all greenhouse emissions in the US come from small garden equipment. Gardeners in the US accidentally spill more fuel in a year while refuelling lawn equipment than was spilt in the Exxon Valdez disaster…food for thought!

Battery powered garden equipment has long been a laughing stock for serious users…they were small, underpowered, had ridiculously short run times and long charge times as well as being stupidly expensive. The last 6 or 7 years have seen the cost of lithium cells drop to less than a tenth of what they were…and battery equipment has finally got the teeth to do a tough job. This is the way of the future, and Milligan Gardens is going to be there for the ride.

Even in a worst case scenario such as parts of Victoria where the electricity is from brown coal, a battery powered mower is producing 5% of the pollution that a petrol mower would be making…here in Tasmania where most of our power is from hydro or wind, battery powered machines are close to zero emissions. We will shortly have a charging solution for mobile battery charging using solar, which will make our service truly zero emissions!

We do still have a few petrol powered machines, some specialised jobs simply don’t have an electric option yet, and for those rare clearing jobs with half an acre of chest high grass there just isn’t a substitute yet for petrol grunt…but all of our routine work is now petrol free and we are loving it!