The Colorado Ethic of Recycling, Reuse, and Clean Energy – The Colorado Sun | NutSocia

The transition from fossil fuels to clean energy is so complex that ethical dilemmas seep into every corner of American consumer life, even the musty corners of the average garage.

Consumers like Ed McAuliffe in Fort Collins are trying to do the right thing as bushels of taxpayer and utility rebates become available for cleaner electric cars, lawnmowers, home heaters, leaf blowers and cooktops.

Is it right to trade in a perfectly good gas powered machine for someone else, and if someone else keeps using it, is there any benefit to the world?

After hearing about the amount of ozone and greenhouse gases his lawn care produces, McAuliffe began looking for alternatives. “I want my leaf blower/vacuum to cause as much pollution in an hour as driving a pickup truck to and from California a few times! God knows what mess my mower creates in one hour of use,” he said.

“Here’s the dilemma,” he continued: He’s got two absolutely fine fossil-fueled machines that could impressively till landscapes for decades.

“If I buy new electronic devices, what happens to these working machines? Are they going to a landfill where they are a serious waste of material and space and will still be intact in 40 years? Or do I resell them knowing that the next owner(s) will cause the massive amounts of pollution I’m trying to avoid?

Jordan Champalou demonstrates a DeWalt electric leaf blower near Sloans Lake on December 1, 2022. Champalou has been mowing lawns since he was 10 years old and now maintains 30 to 40 homes a week using all power lawn tools. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

“And then there’s the lost manufacturing and transportation costs, which represent significant investments of money, materials, and energy, all of which are duplicated to outfit me with new electrical equipment,” McAuliffe wrote.

He asks for one of our “wisdoms”, but realizes that it may be terse, adding, “Have you found any people who have thought reasonably about this?”

We have Ed!

We’ve forwarded this common inquiry about recycling and reusing consumer durables to helpful resources at CoPIRG, Eco-Cycle, and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. Similar questions are bound to multiply this year as federal and state governments solidify lucrative electric vehicle tax credits and lawmakers like Colorado consider a new tax credit for purchasing clean electric leaf blowers and lawnmowers. The pollution debt of two-stroke engines like Ed’s is gaining notoriety.

Our experts had very nuanced things to say, so let’s start with the most practical advice.

Clean energy advocates agree that when a consumer has the money for new lawn equipment, it is most ethical to turn over the old gas-powered equipment to a recycler who will recycle the valuable parts. Some scrappers even offer cash.

“We agree with the reader it’s best not to circulate the gas equipment lest it continue to pollute the environment,” wrote Eco-Cycle’s Randy Moorman. “The Regional Air Quality Control Council (RAQC) has a program that provides coupons or a buy-back program for new electrical appliances for those who are giving away their gas appliances. For more information, contact RAQC or

“We also accept this equipment at the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials in Boulder – CHaRM Facility ( We take the gas equipment and disassemble it to recycle the parts. For both of these programs, the equipment must be clean of fluids (no fuel),” Moorman said.

CoPIRG’s Danny Katz started with a more existential answer: Does Ed really need a leaf blower?

Some experts believe that clippings are good for the grass. Xeriscaping your lawn saves valuable Colorado water. And if you only need a lawnmower once a week or a leaf blower once a season, why not share the equipment with neighbors to reduce resource use, asks Katz.

“Ultimately, it’s really preposterous how polluting gas lawn equipment is, and given the air pollution issues along our Front Range, I would argue that we can’t afford gas-powered equipment,” continued Katz. “Given the technological advances we’ve made on the electric front, I think we’re about to reach a moment where you won’t be selling gas-powered appliances anymore and people like you won’t face this dilemma because you would have bought it an electrically operated piece in front. That day must come soon – we want to reduce the cost of this transition.”

CoPIRG acknowledges that it often works to extend the life of goods by repairing them rather than scrapping them to buy new materials that cause pollution in manufacturing. “The amount of material we would save if everyone kept using their phones for a year is in the hundreds of pounds per phone,” Katz said.

“On the front line of the good news, lawn equipment isn’t like plastic bags — there are a lot of valuable materials that can be removed and recycled,” Katz said. He also recommends the Mow Down Pollution program.

SWEEP’s Travis Madsen agrees that taking gas equipment off the street is best, but if Ed needs the money or can’t bear to scrap good machines, selling it to someone else is fine.

“This would potentially replace the purchase of new equipment that the other person might otherwise acquire, and gradually put us on the path to cleaner, more efficient technology,” Madsen wrote. “That would show at the market level increased demand for the clean option and decreased demand for the combustion option, which is progress.”

And people who believe in the clean energy transition can soften the fringes of their personal dilemmas by speaking publicly about expanding aid programs, Madsen said. That could mean supporting broader discount programs or seeking support for public transport.

“Ask for more support from your elected officials to help everyone make this transition smooth and effective,” Madsen said. The transition will come through all sorts of incremental steps, he said. “It won’t happen overnight and there will be some imperfect compromises and inefficiencies as we do this.”

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