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I'm learning how to use a string trimmer before buying one. I know that it uses a line to cut the grass. But the line will wear and get shorter. Where does the line go? I guess into the grass and ground. Then it will be plastic waste into the ground, right? We know that plastic can't be decomposed.

Is there a trimmer that does not use a plastic line?

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    Some trimmers can use different type of cutting head, like using blades instead of string, but cutting width is usually much smaller and do not like hard objects too much. First trimmer I had was electric and had a 3 or 4 inch steel blade on it, like a lawn mower. You wear string down mainly by hitting rocks/ground/buildings with it.
    – crip659
    Aug 11, 2021 at 17:59
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    Kudos to all the people who say they find & collect the bits of broken trimmer line! I don't know that I've ever seen any of the pieces scattered about my yard, whether neon orange, yellow, purple or any other color. TBH, I've never really looked, but they're certainly not obvious!
    – FreeMan
    Aug 12, 2021 at 11:32
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    "Plastic can't be decomposed" is a fundamentally wrong statement. Many plastics photodegrade. Some biodegrade. Granted, most of what your hardware store sells would contribute to microplastic contamination, but it's not an absolute.
    – isherwood
    Aug 12, 2021 at 14:49
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    Picking up bits of trimmer line is a fool's errand. Millions of particles of the stuff are flung everywhere as you trim, and that microplastic pollution could be considered a worse problem than the larger chunks. Either use non-degradable plastic or don't, but don't get to thinking that you'll scavenge and recycle your way to redemption.
    – isherwood
    Aug 12, 2021 at 14:52
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    "Assuming you stay away from sharp corners like brick, chain-link fence, or a 4x4 deck post" - well, there goes the main use cases for a string trimmer. The only place I use mine is in odd shaped spaces that the lawnmower can't reach. That's just a few inches around those objects.
    – JRE
    Aug 13, 2021 at 7:41

4 Answers 4

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While you can get trimmers that use blades, they are obviously no longer string trimers at that point, even if they came from the factory with a string head. Notably, they have considerably more risk when encountering a solid object, or you - depending on blade design, blades can break and fly off, or fail to yield when encountering an obstruction and cause the machine to kick wildly.

Depending what and how much you are trimming, all the pre-string-trimmer options apply - grass shears, hedge shears, powered hedge trimmers, scythes, sickles, etc. and they may be safer than some string-trimmer metal blade options. String trimmer plastic blades still shed plastic waste as they wear, and become plastic waste when they lose too much of (at least) one blade.

There do appear to be (supposedly) biodegradable trimmer line products showing up on the market - that should have been a priority from the outset, but obviously was not.

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You're right, there are little bits of plastic that break off and end up on the ground. There are different types of heads for trimmers that can minimize this. Basically they use different types of blades, usually on a pivot to cut instead of plastic string.

You might check with your dealer for alternatives to the string head.

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Maybe you could get some blades like this:

When they hit something to hard they yield instead of breaking. Search for Weed Wacker or Weed Warrior.

Cudos to you for trying to prevent more plastic waste!

Weed Wacker

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    While admittedly better, these still wear, leaving microplastics behind.
    – SQB
    Aug 13, 2021 at 10:21
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Yes, the plastic line goes somewhere around.

Then again, two factors mitigate the plastic waste problem:

  1. The line is usually quite distinct in color (in regard to grass or soil) and allows for easy collection of these parts that happen to tear off.

  2. The line material - what I have seen is PLA. PLA (poly lactic acid) degrades into lactic acid. I am not sure about the speed of the process, but is pretty much faster than any degrade process that could happen in other popular polymers (polyethylene, polystyrene) and the degradation product is much safer.

Well, I still try to collect the orange pieces. They are aestetically unpleasant.

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    PLA is "commercially compostable" (high temperature) and having performed a few experiments with it in a garden setting, a PLA "compostable" fork showed essentially no degradation after more than a year of simply being stuck in a garden bed. I have doubts about how well it would work as trimmer line, unless a "less brittle" formulation than that used for 3D printer filament exists. Filament is quite brittle and breaks very easily.
    – Ecnerwal
    Aug 12, 2021 at 12:01
  • at least a significant part of the line breaks up as tiny particles that you won't see. PLA degrades under very specific conditions, not when just sitting there.
    – njzk2
    Aug 12, 2021 at 19:49
  • @Ecnerwal PLA printer filament is not 100% PLA, and would not be what is used to make trimmer string. There are fillers that contribute to PLA filament's brittle and fickle nature.
    – Logarr
    Aug 12, 2021 at 20:22
  • The actual wear rate is pretty low too, at least in my experience. I have a typical suburban yard, and a spool of the line typically outlasts the lifetime of the trimmer itself. Which (until electric finally caught up) was typically powered by gas, and far more pollutive every time I ran it than the plastic waste from an entire year of use. And then once the trimmer dies you have to responsibly dispose of it. Aug 13, 2021 at 12:45
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    I almost never find pieces of my trimmer line.
    – bob
    Aug 13, 2021 at 12:51

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