San Francisco Makes Progress Against a Pollutant Worse than Cars

By Rachel Puryear

If you live or work anywhere near any lawn, you’ve probably at some point been rudely disturbed the ear-torturing, whiny roar of someone else’s gas-powered leaf blower. You have probably also felt the aggravation of allergies that follows, due to dirt, mold, and other allergens getting blown into the air. This is irritating enough (physically and psychologically) in itself.

But did you know that these machines also pollute like crazy? In fact, in only one hour of usage, a gas-powered leaf blower emits as much carbon emissions into the air (which leads to climate change) as a typical Toyota Camry emits after driving 1,000 miles. In California, within a decade, gas-powered leaf blowers are predicted to account for twice as many carbon emissions as cars, even though there are far more cars than leaf blowers! That is, unless major changes occur to the way people use leaf blowers.

The two-stroke engine used in most gas-powered leaf blowers is based upon decades-old technology, and is thereby very inefficient in fuel usage by modern standards. Vehicles from the mid-20th century used the two-stroke technology; but vehicles have become far, far more efficient in fuel usage since then. Meanwhile, gas-powered leaf blowers have not become more efficient at all over the decades. In California, there are far more cars than leaf blowers. Yet, gas-powered leaf blowers create nearly as much carbon emissions that cause climate change, as all the cars in the state do! However, newer electric leaf blowers do not create carbon emissions, and are much quieter – more like the sound level of a washing machine, which is much more bearable.

Despite the clear benefit of the electric machines over the gas-powered ones to people and the planet; the landscaping industry has been very resistant to advocacy in favor of using environmentally friendly models of leaf blowers instead of gas-powered ones. Opponents of this environmental activism claim that switching to electric leaf blowers would be inconvenient to gardeners and landscapers.

However, businesses historically have adapted to environmentally friendly changes far better than they claimed they would initially. Besides, if more people start buying electric leaf blowers, then electric leaf blowers will get cheaper and better. And gardeners who provide quiet, zero-emissions service could have a competitive edge in a saturated gardening industry, if they choose to see it that way.

Male model wearing gray t-shirt which reads, in orange letters, “Leaf Blowers Blow Use a Rake for Goodness Sake”

The City and County of San Francisco, California recently took a big step against the environmental and noise menace which is gas-powered leaf blowers. Over the next year and a half; the City will phase out gas-powered, two-stroke engine leaf blowers in its public parks; and require the use of electric ones instead. Hopefully more cities will follow suit, and this will put further pressure on the gardening and landscaping industry to use more people and planet-friendly machinery.

Many other cities have also banned or at least restricted the use of gas-powered leaf blowers. The State of California is also considering banning the sale of such, but that would not get rid of the many already-existing machines.

Interestingly, there is a strong public moral judgment regarding the use of cars. People who drive unnecessary miles, or who drive large vehicles, might experience shame and scorn from others for contributing to air pollution and climate change.

However, why do gas-powered leaf blower users meanwhile get a pass? Should they not also take heat for their harm to the environment and to the planet? If anything, gas-powered leaf blower users should take much more heat than drivers, as gas-powered leaf blowers pollute much more than even most large cars do.

Furthermore, this double standard exists in spite of the fact that cars have a strong utility value, as people need transportation to get around (and alternatives are not always feasible). At the same time, leaf blowers have pretty much zero utility value. When did we decide that leaves on the ground are such a terrible thing, that we need these terrible machines to get rid of them? Leaves are beautiful and natural, and help feed soil. Besides, electric leaf blowers exist as a reasonable alternative to gas-powered ones, and rakes exist as a reasonable alternative to any leaf blowers.

In any event, public pressure and citizen activism can bring about changes as we see in San Francisco, and other cities which have taken steps to reduce or eliminate the use of gas-powered leaf blowers. Unfortunately, restrictions can be difficult to enforce, as even where complaints are made, violators are usually finished before they can be cited. Therefore, people must also take action for themselves, and talk to their family and friends.

If you use leaf blowers and do not want to switch to a rake, you could use an electric leaf blower instead of a gas-powered one. Encourage the same for people close to you. If you use a gardener, find one who will use an electric leaf blower. Or, maybe better yet, consider a landscape that needs less manicuring – such as desert motif, succulents, or just let some gorgeous leaves lie and naturally nourish your soil. Everyone who has ears, breathes the air, or lives on planet Earth will thank you.

Beautiful yard and pool area landscape, featuring lots of succulents and other desert plants.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following and sharing. Here’s to more autonomy in your life, to do more of what you enjoy, and with whom you love.