Ban the leaf blower, for the sake of the planet

By Eugenie Waters and Mary Lapner

The City of Ottawa declared a climate emergency more than a year ago, but no one is acting as if there is a problem.

Ottawa needs to respond with urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This will require many changes in our city. The following are crucial first steps: hold the line on urban sprawl; get the LRT and public transit right; make walking and cycling safe and appealing; retrofit buildings; install more EV charging stations; divert more waste from landfills; ban single-use plastics; protect and expand our tree canopy. These all need to be pursued ambitiously!

LEAF BLOWERS POLLUTE But what about our highly unsustainable measures, both environmentally and economically, in the maintenance of both public and private outdoor spaces? Consider the small but disproportionately polluting two-stroke leaf blowers and other gas-powered lawn-maintenance machines. Many people are unaware of the high level of pollution and emissions produced by the average gas-powered leaf blower. To help reduce smog-producing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, gas-powered leaf blowers should be banned.

A study by Edmunds.com titled “Emissions Test: Car vs. Truck vs. Leaf Blower” came to the astounding conclusion that leaf blowers are much worse polluters than cars and trucks, though there are fewer of them.

“The two-stroke leaf blower was worse, generating 23 times the CO and nearly 300 times more NMHC [Non-Methane Hydrocarbons] than the crew cab pickup,” the study said. “Let’s put that in perspective. To equal the hydrocarbon emissions of about a half-hour of yard work with this twostroke leaf blower, you’d have to drive a Raptor [pickup truck] for 3,887 miles, or the distance from Northern Texas to Anchorage, Alaska.”

How can we be serious about reducing emissions if we ignore these prevalent, polluting and inefficient machines? There are battery-powered alternatives for the landscaping industry and many homeowners have already replaced these polluting behemoths. To help reduce GHG emissions rapidly, getting rid of these dinosaurs should be part of a multi-faceted response to the climate crisis by the City of Ottawa.

More sustainable approaches could include simply leaving the leaves on the ground or raking them into gardens or under trees. Mulching leaves using an electric mower or incorporating them into backyard composting bins are other options. Maintaining a layer of leaf mulch on our lawns can provide crucial protection to wintering insects and small animals and help to sustain much-needed food for our declining bird populations. While a paradigm shift is not likely in the immediate future, eliminating one aspect of our unsustainable yard practices is a great place to start.

Like most changes to mitigate climate change, there are health and societal benefits to be had. Banning gas-powered leaf-blowers can dramatically improve air-quality, which is especially important for those who suffer from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or allergies. Our children will benefit because their growing lungs put them at most risk. Many of the pollutants from leaf blowers are significant contributors to ground level smog, known carcinogens linked to leukemias and lymphomas that have more recently been associated with certain neurological disorders.

Leaf blowers cause noise pollution and the gas-powered models are by far the most offensive. Protecting work crews and the public, especially children and the elderly, from hearing loss represents another important benefit from a ban. There are definite mental health and social benefits in reducing noise pollution. We know that time spent in nature or in a quiet chat outdoors can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression; nothing kills the peace and tranquility of the outdoors or a pleasant conversation quite like the startling and continuous rev of a leaf blower.

Banning gas-powered leaf blowers would reduce emissions and provide health benefits. It could be done quickly with minimal costs to the city and taxpayers. While we continue to work on the many complex and difficult transitions needed to eliminate fossil fuel use and reduce GHGs, banning leaf blowers is a quick and easy choice.

Eugenie Waters and Mary Lapner are mothers and health care professionals who are hoping to find ways to make our communities healthier, happier and more sustainable. Originally published in the New Edinburgh News. Published by permission.

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