Are Scooters Actually Better for the Environment?

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Gone are the good old days when bicycles were a more common mode of transportation than fuel-guzzling options. Back then, people used the most eco-friendly means available without even knowing it.

But today, when fast, long-distance travel has become so common, that clearly riding a bicycle everywhere is out of the question. We have turned to motor-driven to get where we need to go – faster. The question is, which motorized option is the “greenest” way to travel?

Motor scooters are more fuel efficient and do not emit as much carbon emissions as a car. However, pollution control standards and technology used in scooters are worse than those used in cars so they are not as good for the environment if you take their size and limited speed into account.

But that is not the only reason why motor scooters don’t live up to their climate-friendly narrative. This article will outline how the impact is measured and all the reasons motor scooters are actually worse for the environment than the modes of transportation they are trying to replace.

Measuring environmental impact

The environmental impact of these vehicles is measured in terms of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions because CO2 is the main contributor in global warming. There are other potent greenhouse gases too, but their effect is again measured in CO2-equivalent grams.

To measure the impact fairly, one must distribute the emission contributions of each type of vehicle over the number of passengers it usually carries and average it per kilometer too. So, the overall greenhouse warming potential is given in units of CO2-equivalent grams per passenger-kilometer.

green image on paper background with eco friendly images around an earth

What do studies say?

Studies find that the only situation in which motor scooters perform better than cars is in urban areas, and when you consider single-driver cars only. But when you consider cars with one, two, or three passengers, motor scooters have a poorer footprint even in urban areas.

In rural areas, the impact of motor scooters is always worse than cars, even single-driver ones.

These scooters also release more harmful emissions than a single bus with high ridership.

Emission Control in Cars vs Motor Scooters

Although motor scooters do give better mileage than cars and SUVs, these two-wheelers have less sophisticated emission control technology than four-wheelers.

Because of the compact size and design, motor scooters can’t be fitted with the same catalytic converters and other control mechanisms as cars can.

Moreover, although scooters emit a lesser quantity of CO2, they do emit more nitrogen oxides (NOx) and hydrocarbons (HC) which are even more potent and can have extremely adverse health impacts. They also are the main components which lead to ground-level ozone formation, smog, acid rain etc.

According to the limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cars cannot produce more than 0.16 grams of HCs and NOx per mile, whereas scooters are allowed to get away with eight times the emissions, i.e. 1.3 grams.

Considering the net contribution to environmental degradation, most motor scooters come out at the higher end of the spectrum.

However, since smog and ozone problems are usually not classified to be as critical as the global warming crisis, and because they have more of a local than global impact, these factors are considered low priority.

The major concern is the amount of CO2 being put into the atmosphere, and motor scooters are eco-friendlier on that account if you consider the total emission a single car makes compared to a single scooter. However, if you factor in carpooling and multiple passenger vehicles, cars are definitely eco-friendlier per passenger.

Scooters do not have the same emission standards as cars

2 stroke versus 4 stroke matters

We do need to acknowledge that there are differences between the gas-powered scooter motors – 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines.

A two-stroke engine has fewer moving parts compared to a 4-stroke engine, but they also consume more fuel than a 4-stroke engine. A 2-stroke engine will complete the intake, compression, ignition, combustion, and exhaust in two strokes of the piston. 

Read more about the 2-stroke versus 4-stroke scooter debate here

Now that we understand the types of scooter engines that we have, what does it matter to their effect on the environment.

It is widely known that a two-stroke engine is harmful to the environment and dangerous to human health as it releases more emissions than the more efficient four-stroke.

A two-stroke engine will use one liter of fuel for 15 miles, while in optimal conditions a four-stroke engine will use the same one liter of fuel for 25-30 miles. That is up to a 100% improvement!

Also, in a two-stroke engine, fuel and oil are mixed in the same tank. This means that fuel and oil emissions are evaporated into the air. Some studies said this would make a two-stroke engine emit 30-50 times more pollution than a four-stroke engine.

Some cities (European primarily) have banned two-stroke engine scooters from their city limits because they emit too much smog and particles.

image of a gas pump

Other Environmental Considerations

Most scooter brands use plastic to make their scooter frame. By the time these plastics get damaged, they are disposed of, and they add to the plastic waste statistics that we have.

Unless recycled, it takes years for plastic to disintegrate. Unlike metal, that can be used repeatedly without having to dispose of it. It can easily be repainted and re-used.

However, some scooter brands use metals for their scooter’s frame, so we can acknowledge that these brands, in the little way they can, have helped reduce environmental pollution.

Additionally, scooters do require oils to function right. Oil leaks or not disposing of oils properly do have an impact on the environment, but this is a similar risk to cars. Cars use more of those oils, so scooters win out in this regard, as well.

The manufacturer and price

Depending a lot on the manufacturer, brand, and the type of car (the design, model, and price), either a motor scooter or a car could be better for the environment. The latest models, and the more expensive ones which are fitted with more sophisticated pollution control technology, will definitely come out on top.

Hence many two-wheelers do a lot better than others. However, if you were to compare the latest scooters to the latest cars, the fact still remains that cars have more space and options to fit more emission control equipment, and scooters are constrained for size.

Are Scooters More Eco-friendly Than Cars?

Scooters can be said to be more eco-friendly than cars if we take the following details into account.

  • A scooter uses fuel more efficiently than a car. A carr uses a liter of fuel to travel 8.6 miles, while a 4-stroke scooter will travel 24.8 miles using the same amount.
  • Scooters use less fuel, so this means that they release less CO2.
  • Scooters use fewer chemicals and oil when compared to a car

So this means that using a scooter rather than a car benefits the ecosystem. If more people in the USA use scooters, then 4 billion gallons of gas can be saved in a year. This will reduce fuel consumption by 58%, emissions of C02 will also decrease by 80%, and there will also be a mass reduction in traffic jams.

Although scooters release less CO2, there are emissions of other pollutants like nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons that can affect the environment. Nitrogen oxides cause respiratory diseases, increase allergic responses, and damage vegetation.

However, emissions of these other gases can make cars better than scooters in being environmentally safe. This is because scooters do not have emission controls that can reduce the release of nitrogen oxides, but cars have.

Read about the best scooter brands here to start your hunt for the best scooter for you!

Final Words

In a way, scooters can be better for the environment as they do not emit a lot of CO2. However, on the other hand, they can be harmful to the environment due to various gases like hydrocarbons, CO, and nitrogen oxides that they emit.

Some companies have started upgrading, and they are now doing all things possible to make scooters more environmentally friendly. The Vespa brand has created a scooter that does not use fuel. The name of this scooter model is Vespa Electtrica. You can consider this scooter an environmentally friendly scooter.

Be safe & be seen, scooter pal!