Leaf Blowers: More Than Clean Driveways

When I was a young boy cleaning the yard was a simple equation that included just a rake, a burlap sack and my blistered hands out in the backyard. Nowadays you can’t get through a morning without a very loud reminder that people are tidying up with their leaf blower. To date, this modern wonder has been the source of cultural debate, law making and un-making, and even an across the fence argument or two. Lately the environmental impact of using leaf blowers has come to light.

According to Home & Garden Magazine, one hour of leaf blower use produces the same amount of carbon dioxide use as driving 224 miles in the average car. This study is just one looking into the environmental impact of gas powered leaf blowers. Another study found that the two-stroke engines produce a huge amount of green house gases and put out 49 times the particulate matter of a light duty vehicle, primarily because of the large amount of unburned fuel released.

These emissions are issues not only for the environment, but also the operator. Many leaf blowers are operated by gardening maintenance crews who are directly exposed to the toxic gases. Combine that with the lack of hearing protection and a lifelong professional gardener can wind up with some serious health issues.

Nationwide leaf blower sales are now nearly 2.4 million units. Leaf blowers are sure to have an ongoing impact on the environment unless people change behavior. Regulators have banned their use in 20 cities in California, including Los Angeles.

Back in the early 1970s the leaf blower was invented in Japan and used for crop dusting. It wasn’t long before ingenious Americans figured out how to clean their driveways with them instead of using water during the California drought of the mid-1970s. Since then people have pretty much been for or against the leaf blowers.

The naysayers say that leaf blowers are noisy. I know I’ve had my share of unwanted early morning wake-ups. It’s not just the early start that landscapers seem to get it’s also the constant drone of the sound. In fact, I lived in one neighborhood where it seemed like there was only one leaf blower and each neighbor took turns using it resulting in a 12 hour blow-session that shattered a whole day’s peace.

Leaf blower proponents argue that a ban would result in unduly high yard maintenance charges. Because of the high costs people would fire their gardeners resulting in the loss of jobs. I get the higher costs, but loss of jobs? Proponents believe that people who currently have gardeners will choose to pick up the rake and broom to save money. Opponents counter that actually more people will be hired to complete the work which will take longer.

On the other hand, by eschewing leaf blowers, some people might just choose to get out in the yard and enjoy a little hard work, work a sweat in the autumn chill and then relax by the fire with a nice glass of Chardonnay.