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A mower exchange program plugs low-impact lawn care

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Debra Sachs is downright giddy about a cool new toy -- an excitement she hopes to share with people in Chittenden County and beyond. It's a snazzy two-tone green, purrs like a kitten and handles like a dream.

No, it's not a slick new SUV or loaded sports car that's got Sachs all hot and bothered. The executive director of Burlington's Alliance for Climate Action is gushing over, well, a lawnmower.

The Neuton cordless electric mower, complete with a rechargeable battery, is a svelte 31 pounds -- a mere trifling, compared to the conventional gas mower, which weighs in at 85. The Neuton is relatively quiet, too. It only makes about half as much noise as its gas-powered cousins.

Using the Neuton is cleaner than using a standard model. Each year, refilling gasoline-powered outdoor equipment results in some 17 million gallons spilled -- more petroleum than the Exxon Valdez spilled. Obviously, with a mower that's powered by electricity, there's nothing to spill. Most importantly, the electric model emits only a fraction as much greenhouse gas. Depending on the compound, the emissions from electric mowers can be 5 to 9000 times less than the respective emissions from gas mowers, according to a report from Green Seal Environmental Partners.

The Neuton normally retails for $399. Starting May 19, 140 Vermonters who agree to give up their gas-powered mowers will be able to purchase the electric machine for just $269. The consumer-incentive Mow Down Pollution Lawnmower Exchange Program is part of the ACA's "10% Challenge," a campaign launched in 2000 to save energy and reduce carbon dioxide and other poisonous emissions by -- you guessed it -- 10 percent, as of the year 2010.

"Something as simple as switching the type of lawnmowers we use really has the potential to make a long-term difference in our stewardship of the planet," explains Sachs. In simpler terms, "The goal of the 10% Challenge is to help Vermonters reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Sachs notes. "This lawnmower exchange program offers people better access to a specific tool, appropriate to the season, to reduce pollution from a routine yard-maintenance activity."

The Mow Down Pollution program is supported by more than 80 local businesses and is partnered by Country Home Products, a Vergennes business that carries the Neuton line of electric lawnmowers, and various public environmental agencies.

To participate in the Mow Down Pollution program, take your gasoline-powered lawnmower to a participating solid-waste district, and leave it there. Be sure all gasoline is emptied from your mower before you turn it in. Each solid-waste district provides an information packet with a coupon towards purchase of the Neuton mower, as well as instructions on how to participate in the 10% Challenge.

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