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 Kick the Gas Can Habit

Last updated 2010.01.11

Kick the Gas Can Habit

Small engines are big polluters. Usually poorly tuned and using primitive carburetors, they dump unburned fuel into the environment. With either token, or more often, no emissions controls, they spew the whole soup of carbon-monoxide, carbon-dioxide, nitrogen-oxides, sulphur-oxides, volatile organic compounds and more toxins and carcinogens (e.g. MTBE, benzene) into our air and water, and contribute to smog, acid-rain and greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to global climate change.

Do you really enjoy the attributes of small gasoline engines?

  • The smell of gasoline and oil in your garage or shed, on your hands and clothes

  • Spills

  • The potential fire hazard

  • The extra trips to the gas station to get the gas can filled

  • Lugging the can to the engine, or the engine to the can for refills

  • Checking the fuel and oil levels before each use

  • Rope starters

  • Backfires

  • Spark plugs, magnetos and ignition wires

  • Clogged fuel lines

  • Tune-ups and maintenance such as replacing spark arresters

  • Draining the tank each season

  • Oil changes

  • The smelly, oily exhaust

  • The noise, especially when your neighbour starts up at 8:00 am Sunday morning

  • The vibration and loss of sensation in fingers and hands after extended use

And for two-stroke engines, these additional requirements.

  • Keeping an extra gas-can for the "mixed" gas

  • Measurng the amounts of oil and gasoline to be mixed

Why suffer the inconveniences and disadvantages of small gasoline engines when better alternatives are available?

What better alternatives? Muscle and electric powered alternatives that emit no toxins or carcinogens, no emissions at all except some carbon-dioxide from fueling muscles and perhaps some perspiration.

What do you use small gasoline engines for? Click on the items below, and see what alternatives are available. If your use for a polluting small engine does not appear in this list, write us and we will research it for an alternative.

Lawnmower | Line Trimmer | Snowblower | Rototiller | Lawn Tractor | Chainsaw | Leaf Blower | Marine Drive (outboard) | Generator | Wood Chipper | Go Kart / Yard Kart | Parking Lot Vacuum | Junior Dragster | Ice Auger | Co-Generation (heat + electricity)


Probably the single largest group of small engines, and the most easily replaced. Alternatives include:

Converting lawns into gardens (vegetable, flower, ornamental) that do not require mowing

Muscle powered reel mowers are available at most hardware stores and gardening stores.

Corded electric lawnmowers are commonly available at hardware stores and department stores.

Cordless electric lawnmowers are available at many hardware stores.

Line Trimmer

Long-handled grass shears clear long grass remarkably quickly in practiced hands, without getting down on hands and knees or bending over.

Corded electric line trimmers are a common item at department and hardware stores.

Cordless electric line trimmers are less common, but are available.


Obviously, the old standby, the snow shovel is still with us. There are scrapers, pushers, and throwers, with straight handles and bent handles.


Turning soil by hand is certainly an option, and is less tiring with a proper shovel, fork or long-handled cultivator.

Lawn Tractor

Electric Tractor Corporation produces the Ox, an all-electric tractor. There are still a number of General Electric Elec-Traks still in operation, despite production ending in the 1970's.

Chain Saw

Hand saws are available in an amazing variety of types and sizes.

Corded electric chain saws are available, and highly capable for most types of trimming and clearing activities short of full-time lumbering.

An interesting variant was the MiniBrute, which was a 12-volt DC chain saw, so could be used pretty much anywhere a vehicle could get.

Leaf Blower

Dare we suggest rakes and brooms? Quiet, effective, better control over where the material goes, and good exercise.

There are some corded electric blowers available. They have even been included as attachments on shop vacuums.

There are also some cordless electric blowers (e.g. PowerBroom or VroomBroom)

Marine Drive (Outboard)

Sails require some skill to use well, and available wind, but there is a quiet dignity and majesty to a boat moving across the waves under full sail that that can't be matched by a roaring outboard. Canoes move at a reasonable speed using simple muscle power. Zero-emissions electric drive is available in sizes from trolling motors to very large. Were you aware that diesel submarines actually use electric drive systems? Or that the Queen Elizabeth II ocean liner actually used electric drive? Or that the U.S. Navy is currently building its next generation of military surface vessels to run on electric drive systems?


How about carrying a battery pack instead of a generator? Or using solar panels or a wind-generator to produce power? If those don't fit the application, how about a diesel-powered generator using bio-diesel (waste vegetable oil)?

Wood Chipper

The mulch from wood chips is great cover for gardens (helps with weeding), and can be used as a traction aid on ice (more environmentally friendly than salt). Wouldn't it be preferable if the power source doing the work wasn't polluting the air? An electric motor could do the same job.

Go Kart / Yard Kart

There are some electric go-karts available now, and conversion kits from a few suppliers.

Parking Lot Vacuum

They typically don't travel far or fast. Why can't they be battery powered? General Electric built a vacuum attachment for their line of electric tractors in the 1970s. Seems like a natural in air quality non-attainment areas.

Junior Dragster

NHRA is working on the rules (if not already issued) to allow electric junior dragsters. They already have rules for full-scale electric dragsters, and the National Electric Drag Racing Association continues to grow.

Ice Auger

Going ice fishing? Looking for an alternative to filling your hut with poisonous fumes? How about a zero-emissions, quiet, electric-powered ice auger? Of course, the venerable "armstrong" ice auger is also an option, and will provide some warmth as well.

Co-Generation (heat + electricity)

Need back-up power for off-grid operations? Co-generation (CHP) is a frequent choice. How about using a diesel powered generator, and running it off waste vegetable oil (bio-diesel)? Then, how about using solar hot water heating, solar space heating, wind power, photovoltaics, low-head hydro, etc to reduce your need to run the power plant at all.

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