Something crossed my mind that I never thought of before so I Googled it. “What happens to string-trimmer string.”
From John Quinn in Earth Island Journal, this article “Strung Out” is eye-opening:
“When they came on the market in the early 1970s, the pollution from their small engines was obvious. Since then the immediate air pollution has improved. But they are still significant sources of neighborhood noise pollution, a problem they share with their equally ubiquitous cousins, leaf blowers.
“The most serious pollution problem associated with the string trimmer, however, may be the easiest to overlook — it has to do with the nylon string that gives the machine its name. This nylon is a synthetic polymer, a disposable plastic item, and string trimmers use prodigious amounts of the stuff. In the course of mowing, the string is worn away and is spewed into the environment as the line whirrs around at speeds up to 28,000 feet per minute.”
The article has a lot more info – very worthwhile read.
On a related note, I read about a cemetery in Antwerp, Belgium, that gets mowed by a farmer with a flock of sheep. The sheep cut the grass while also presumably contributing organic fertilizer. Sort of the opposite of what happens with mechanized mowing.
I always hate to see and hear loud mechanized equipment in parks and cemeteries. By the way, the cemetery I read about is a military cemetery. This bodes well for the future of grasscutting businesses that are built on four-legged, living mowers. If the standard of neatness they achieve is good enough for a military cemetery it should be good enough for any cemetery or park.
This morning I used a string-trimmer (borrowed from a neighbor) to cut the grass of the elderly man across the street who we all help look after. The trimmer I borrowed is a battery-powered one, which makes it much quieter and less smelly than the gas-powered ones.
The other day I read about a grasscutting business in the UK that uses only scythes and other hand-tools. They call themselves the Trim Reapers. This is pretty much my ideal!
Over the past few years I have tried various hand-tools for cutting the inevitable grass, but none has been satisfactory. Push-mower, scythe, sling-blade, grass shears. The blades get dull really fast (or were never sharp in the first place), and I don’t have the knowledge or tools to sharpen them. If we had a blade-sharpening business in the neighborhood, that person would always have steady work. There was an itinerant blade-sharpener in this part of the state — a homeless guy on a bicycle who had pedaled all over the country — but he passed away.
Update: Just now I found this article from Rachel Koski Nielsen at dengarden.com, about mowing with a scythe. Ms. Nielsen gives a lot of good info, and includes 1) a very helpful short video from One Scythe Revolution that shows very clearly how to hold the tool and position your body; and 2) a video from Paul Wheaton on how to sharpen and peen a scythe blade.
Update Sept. 15, 2021: I googled “eco-friendly string-trimmer string” and found this brand Biotrim that is supposedly biodegradable.