Gas leaf blower and lawn mower bans are beginning to spread

Photo credit: Cbaile19 dedicated this photo to the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

USA Today reports that bans on gas-powered leaf blowers and gas-powered lawn mowers are beginning to spread nationwide. Noise from gas leaf blowers has been the foundation of many of the restrictions that have been enacted nationwide. More than 200 municipalities have enacted restrictions. More are trying.

While communities have been distressed about the noise created in their neighborhoods, the emissions have also raised concerns. USA Today refers to the claim by environmentalists that using a commercial gas-powered leaf blower produces emissions equivalent to driving from Denver to Los Angeles. An earlier analysis by Quiet Communities published on the EPA website illustrates the need to clarify what is meant by these equivalents. Small gas engines produce different types of toxic emissions: ozone-forming chemicals, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide. They also emit greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide. The equivalents referred to by USA Today and the ones generated by the California Air Resources Board on small off-road engines refer to ozone-forming emissions.

Battery-powered lawn and garden equipment are zero emissions at point of operation, generally much quieter, and easier to use. The noise does not travel over long distances and does not easily penetrate walls and windows. While advances in lithium battery technology are facilitating the transition away from gas lawn and garden equipment, the ease of transition differs for residential users vs. commercial users.

Homeowners who maintain their own properties and who only need to use the equipment for short periods of time are rapidly adopting battery electric equipment. For commercial users, dependent on gas blowers to move quickly from house to house, use of less powerful battery electric blowers may reduce work productivity, translating to servicing fewer customers per day and loss of revenue. The upfront cost of battery electric equipment is also much higher to match the work productivity of gas equipment, especially in heavy clean-up situations. Additionally, battery operated equipment need proper infrastructure for safe charging.

This is not to say that a transition is not possible. It is possible but in ways that are practical for landscapers and customers. Rather, it is to say that it’s not just about electric equipment, it’s also about education and training, change in practices, change in behavior, and customer awareness. Localities, states, and industry organizations are just starting to appreciate what is required to transition the commercial industry on a broad scale. California, for instance, allocated $30 million for education and training on battery electric equipment.

Hopefully, more resources will be made available soon to make a holistic industry-wide transition.

A cleaner and quieter world will be a better world for all.

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