A beautiful fall morning dawns in the great city of Salt Lake. You are enjoying a brisk walk. The sky is crisp azure blue and the birds are singing. The streets are still empty and quiet. A cool wind blows over the Wasatch Mountains and dry leaves clatter in the trees overhead as you take a full breath of clean air. Then, you turn the corner. A deep roar breaks your peaceful repose. The scent of gasoline wafts towards your nose. Your neighbor is up early, too—blowing leaves off the porch and releasing toxins, noise and general anxiety into your perfect, quiet morning.
Many cities in the United States have already banned the use of leaf-blowers, starting with Beverly Hills, California way back in the 1970s. While today’s leaf blowers have indeed become more efficient and somewhat less loud, we here at CATALYST magazine are suggesting you ditch your gas-powered leaf blower this fall. And if you’ve been thinking about buying one, perhaps let us persuade you not to.
Leaf blowers are inefficient
Most gasoline-powered leaf blowers use a two-cycle engine, which requires the oil and gasoline to be a mixture when combusted. This type of engine is notably inefficient because when the mixture does not thoroughly combust, the engine begins to discharge an abundance of toxins such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and hydrocarbons. Some lower-emission four-cycle engines are being introduced into the market and there are some cleaner electric engine options as well.
As 200 mph winds from the machine blow away dead leaves and lawn clippings, with it go dried animal waste, fertilizers, pesticides, allergens, fungi, spores and even heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and lead, as well as important top soils and microbial life forms—into the air, into your open windows, up your nose,
As if we didn’t already worry enough about air pollution in Salt Lake City, you might think that a small leaf blower should be the least of our worries. But according to the New York Times, a single leaf blower can create the same pollution in one year as 80 cars on the road. The American Lung Association actually recommends that people simply stop using leaf blowers.
I’ve always been a proponent of the end-noise-pollution movement. The EPA agrees experiencing loud noises throughout the day can interfere with quality of life, degrade sleep and focus and increase feelings of aggravation. A moderate decibel level that does not disturb the human system is around 60 dB. That’s about the level of a normal human conversation. The average two-cycle leaf blower can get as loud as 102 dB. This machine pollutes the environment, harms local ecology and also affects the quality of life in more direct ways.
Any professional landscaper will tell you that you can finish a job with a leaf blower much faster and better than the old-fashioned broom and rake. Some companies argue that bans would harm the success of their businesses. So, in the home state of the first ban on leaf blowers, the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water did a cycle of studies where a grandmother with a broom and rake was pitted against a professional landscaper with his choice of leaf blower. In each of three cycles the grandmother finished the job faster and actually did a more detailed job of cleaning.
In Utah, if your concrete is edged with greenery, don’t be afraid to use the hose. Power off the sidewalk and water the brown-prone edges of lawn or garden at the same time.
So let’s ditch the leaf blower. Lawn work is a chore, but it can also be rewarding and meditative. Experience mindfulness as you rake and sweep. Bring greater insight into your manual outdoor tidying—and more oxygen into your lungs. Find tranquility this fall.
There are still no bans or restrictions on leaf blowers here in Salt Lake City and according to the City’s communications manager, Sophia Nicholas, there are “no plans for banning gas powered yard maintenance equipment.”
However, the city is making an effort to “phase out” two-stroke engines in all equipment used by city maintenance teams and replace them with electric equipment. That leaves private businesses and city residents to make such changes voluntarily. For all the reasons named above, we suggest being the better neighbor, and landscaper, and leaving those villainous machines in the back of the garage. Our ears, noses and lungs thank you.
Jane Lyon is a senior in environmental and sustainability studies at the University of Utah and a former CATALYST intern, and is involved in producing the CATALYST Weekly Reader.