Petition Calls for Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers to be Blown Out of Rhode Island
January 27, 2023
Of all the nature-spoiling, public-health-degrading tools of the lawn-care industry, gasoline-powered leaf blowers easily generate the most disdain. They are noisy, stinky, and obnoxious. They’re not tolerated like lawn mowers, weed whackers, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.
George Voutes discovered their true unpleasantness when the pandemic changed how the corporate engineer worked.
“Working at home the last couple of years, it really became obvious that these things are terribly annoying and, more than that, they’re incredibly horrifying from an ecological perspective,” he said. “People have become accustomed to using these machines that blow the hell out of everything in existence and the awful pollution and noise that emits from these disruptive machines.”
The Barrington resident began researching the environmental impact the machines inflict. He learned leaf-blowers powered by gasoline are epic polluters, “given the antiquated design of the 2-stroke engine that mixes oil and gas, burning some of it and aerosolizing the rest.”
He also found a growing amount of evidence that implicates 2-stroke engines in increased risk of heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease, and cancer.
Voutes recently started a petition to stop the sale and use of gas-powered leaf blowers in Rhode Island. He said gas-powered lawn equipment has become an “offense to our ears and our lungs.” He believes the time has come for Rhode Islanders to “demand cleaner, quieter lawn and leaf equipment for municipal, commercial, and residential use.”
But his focus at the moment is phasing out the sale and use of the petroleum-powered leaf blower, which first appeared for general use in the 1970s.
“I don’t like the idea of applying it to all gas-powered lawn equipment right now,” Voutes said. “That’s really difficult for the people making their livelihood to swallow.”
The amount of harm created to maintain immaculate green expanses of lifeless space is stunning. Pesticides prevent wildflower seeds from germinating and poison the insects, including pollinators, that feed birds, other wildlife, and ultimately humans. Nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer, carried by stormwater runoff into streams and rivers and eventually into larger waterbodies such as Narragansett Bay, impact ecosystems and fuel toxic algal blooms.
Much of the country’s lawn-care efforts are powered by or made from fossil fuels. For instance, much of the 90 million pounds or so of fertilizer dumped on lawns annually are fossil-fuel products. Nitrogen fertilizer, for example, is made primarily from methane.
Gas-powered lawn-care equipment typically runs on 2-stroke (more powerful) or more recently 4-stroke (more durable) engines. These engines are cheap, compact, lightweight, and simple. They’re also highly polluting, generating up to 5% of the country’s air pollution, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Each weekend for much of the year, some 54 million Americans, according to estimates, mow their lawns. All this weekend grass cutting uses some 800 million gallons of gasoline annually. That doesn’t include the gas used to blow grass clippings, fallen leaves, dust, and insects around. Green trimmings on black asphalt or gray concrete isn’t a suitable outdoor decor.
A 2011 report found that a consumer-grade leaf blower emits more pollutants than a 6,200-pound Ford F-150 SVT Raptor pickup. Tests also found that a Ryobi 4-stroke leaf blower spewed out almost seven times more oxides of nitrogen and 13.5 times more carbon monoxide than the pickup. An Echo 2-stroke leaf blower performed even worse, generating 23 times more carbon monoxide and nearly 300 times more non-methane hydrocarbons than the truck.
Among the carcinogenic compounds emitted by leaf blowers are benzene, butadiene, and formaldehyde. The other hazards created by leaf blowers, especially for those who operate them, include potential hearing loss and the inhalation of toxic particulate matter — i.e., the dust clouds that often accompany the blowing.
These controversial pieces of lawn-care equipment emit, on average, between 80 and 85 decibels, though cheap or mid-range leaf blowers can emit up to 112 decibels. Lawn mowers and weed whackers also emit the same range of noise, but few if any ordinances are introduced to ban or limit their use.
In 2021, an ordinance introduced by a Providence City Council member would have prohibited the use of leaf blowers with an average sound level exceeding 65 decibels in residential zones, and prohibited the operation of leaf blowers throughout the city from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m.
Ward 1 council member John Goncalves, who sponsored the ordinance, said it could have gone further and banned leaf blower use entirely, but it was drafted with the needs of landscaping companies in mind.
Although the ordinance took the lawn-care industry into consideration, a few landscapers who testified in opposition during a public hearing said if it became law small landscaping companies could be put out of business. One claimed the ordinance would reduce productive works hours by 20%, increase landscaping costs, and increase the physical burden placed upon landscape workers. He didn’t mention the health impacts of operating toxic-spewing, noisy leaf blowers or spraying poisons to kill bugs and weeds.
Another landscaper said the use of electric leaf blowers is not practical and claimed that without the use of gas-powered ones, landscaping jobs now billed at $200 or $300 could increase to $900 or $1,000.
About 100 municipalities have banned gas-powered leaf blowers or limited their use. On Jan. 1, 2022, for instance, Larchmont, N.Y., became one of the first Northeast communities to begin enforcing a complete ban. The District of Columbia’s ban on the sale or use of gas-powered leaf blowers, except on federal land, began the same time as Larchmont’s.
In 2021, California became the first state to outlaw all gasoline-powered lawn equipment, requiring new lawn mowers and leaf blowers to be zero-emission by 2024, to help reduce exhaust emissions from small engines that create smog and contribute to the climate crisis.
Alternatives to polluting gas-powered leaf blowers include electric or hand-powered tools and/or approaches that lead to less work and a healthier environment: allowing leaves to remain where they fall to provide habitat for overwintering insects; returning mulched leaves to garden beds to act as fertilizer for plants and habitat for salamanders, snails, and toads; and waiting for spring to cut back perennials to give insect egg sacs a place to survive the fall and winter and to continue to provide a source of food for birds.
Another alternative, according to Voutes, is for a homeowner to demand their landscape contractor use more environmentally friendly practices.
“The homeowner can and should really be the the one that, you know, engages with their contractor and says, ‘Can you provide me with a green option?’ If the answer is no, find someone who can,” he said. “Don’t let them tell you it’s going to cost two or three times more. Baloney. I work with a green contractor now and it costs me the same if not less than before.”
Maybe if the government stopped climate engineering the skies with chemicals and weather warfare we would havehalf the problems that your talking about put ear plugs on and let people work.
I am a sole proprietor of a Landscape business and most importantly I am the only employee of this small business.
I understand some of the arguments in this petition.
However, to make one thing perfectly clear. Green options for lawn care/property maintenance would NOT cost less or even the same amount with the current machines all companies use today. A particular job on any property that is charged at $200 to $300 for example WILL increase by at least two or three times that amount if gas powered leaf blowers are not available for use. This is because, work that requires a high powered gas blower if not available will exponentially increase the amount of timed labor to complete these tasks. Spring and fall cleanups, shrub and garden bed maintenance are among the two most important tasks these machines are used for, for good reason. These services can be heavy and incredibly hard work. Bottom line, from a personal standpoint without any reasonable alternatives simply because the technology is not there yet to do so(meaning, battery powered) many small landscaping businesses such as myself would suffer greatly and immediately. That should be the most important thing to consider, and then there needs to be an available alternative.
I love what I do and I care about this planet. I’m all for the change eventually, but it is not realistic solution right now without the technology of the equipment required.
There are other points I could expand on, the only other one I would like to say is 10 years ago I bet on myself. I sacrificed everything to build something from nothing. It has made me happy and I have had great relationships with my customers and others because of it. Hearing about this petition feels like a violent tug of the rug under my feet and I know I’m not alone.
interesting statistics about the ford pickup vs the leaf blowers. looks like some cherry picking of information. the comparison for exhaust emissions was probably done on a time interval where the leaf blower emitted more pollution. however i use my commercial grade husqvarna 2 stroke leaf blower three times a year for a total of about 5 hours during which i burn about one gallon of gasoline which contains 3 oz of oil. in that time it certainly doesn t emit anywhere near the amount of combustion products that a ford pickup does. granted commercial landscapers use leaf blowers for much longer periods but the use is seasonal and is a fraction of the time they are on site. i ve also been working from my house as an engineer since 1988 and i ve yet to be mentally derailed by landscapers use of leaf blowers on my neighbor’s lawns. what s also interesting is the comments about demanding the use of heavier, less efficient, cleaner equipment by landscapers. if leaf blowers are so offensive how about buying yourself a leaf rake and developing some blisters.
I would like to know how the landscaper calculated his potential increase from $200-$300 per job to $900-$1,000 per job is they had to change to electric powered blowers.
If we are serious about addressing the climate crises, everyone must be willing to make sacrifices. I expect that if you can afford to hire a landscaper to do the work in the first place, you can afford to pay the increased costs it would take to do the work in more ecologically sustainable ways. Can’t afford the increase? Whatever happened to hiring college students or neighborhood kids to rake your leaves?
One unmentioned problem with leaf blowers is that nearly every time I walk by someone working with a leaf blower they are kicking up so much dust that it gets in my eyes, which is a serious health hazard and safety hazard.
In response to Ann’s comment: “I would like to know how the landscaper calculated his potential increase from $200-$300 per job to $900-$1,000 per job is they had to change to electric powered blowers.”
It’s simple. ANY battery powered lawn care equipment or battery powered equipment in general cannot generate the same amount of power, durability, and longevity per use than gas powered equipment. Hands down.
Meaning, you must have multiple batteries charged, available and onhand at all times.
Aside from the initial cost to purchase new electric equipment, each extra battery costs approximately $100 to $150 and that does NOT include plug-in charging stations($79-100 each). Each battery can approximately only last 1 1/2 hours on a LOW setting. So by my estimate I would assume I need at least 6-8 extra batteries for every day. NOT including the purchase of the machine itself and a nother 6 batteries with chargers this is already a minimum $1000-$1200 investment.
The “power” issue. The absolute reason a $200-$300 job would possibly become $900-$1000 is the serious lack of power these machines would provide. The power to move heavy, or possibly even wet(which is heavier) yard waste into an area that you still must rake, barrel, and dump most of the time by hand.
Lithium batteries are combustible and still create pollutants, make no mistake about it.
As a side note, a fire department recently put out a fire on an electric vehicle that supposedly required 6000 gallons of water to extinguish the batteries.
Think about your cell phone sitting out in the sun on a hot summer day, if it overheats it will power down before it explodes as a safety measure and it will not turn on until it cools. That has happened to me. Does anyone think I want something like that attached to my back.
Prices would increase because all of these electronic alternatives currently available will make everything an absolute logistic nightmare for ALL landscapers.
Nevermind the liability issues it would create for all involved, this could cost landscaping business owners more money in various insurances and repair costs.
At least half of what is being blown by blowers doesn’t need to be moved: leaves that fall under shrubs and trees, that the shrubs and trees reuse as food and that serve as their winter root blankets; leaves that land on lawns that could be either mown into small particles to become mulch to feed the grass; or leaves under the trees in the drip line could become planted garden beds. What I’m saying is what Doug Tallamy and others are saying. Let’s rethink our landscaping so that it serves Nature and maybe redefine our sense of aesthetics. Shrink lawns to the extent that rakes make sense again. While I understand that landscapers need to pay their mortgages, landscaping practices that are opposite of what the natural world needs to stay healthy is insane. If banning leaf blowers can force this conversation, let’s do it.
Yes, please! Been dreaming of this happening in RI…no one likes these things. They are harmful to the environment and the people that use them. Use battery operated ones or rake, which is even better. Raking takes less time! I am out in the yard doing this in the fall and am done before the neighbors with even more land than we have- where I hear them spending an hour plus blowing leaves around. Even more funny on windy days. Sometimes I think it’s just people looking for something to do! The obsessive lawn mowing and leaf blowing is off the charts. If you have landscaping companies coming by I assume you don’t need to worry bout the extra money they are whining about needing to charge you to use battery / electric ones. I kinda think they are just whining about it for no reason. Plant some useful stuff as the article points out, leave some of the leaves, or rake into a pile and compost them if you have a decent space for it. I work someplace where they literally blow around dirt. Ridiculous.
Josh, I salute your stamina in such a hard business and appreciate your concerns. I have been changing out my personal gas equipent for Stihl battery items. The leaf blower is a favorite and very capable for the work you describe. The weed whackers are giving me trouble.
However, as a small business man I think the proposed bill should include some type of subsidy for you to switch over, something akin to gun buy backs. Your health should be a major concern for you as it was for me. If you are anticipating higher prices due to demand that seems unlikely as the Chinese can turn their slave labor on a dime to satisfy our needs. Please consider what alternatives might be added to the bill and call your state rep and Senator. Also, have everyone in your family and socail circles call with something that would work for you.
I live in Larchmont, NY, where a ban of gas-powered leaf blowers went into effect last year. I’d say implementation was relatively smooth, and the fresher air and quieter days were welcome.
The ban was preceded by research, presentations, discussions and a public awareness campaign. So at this point most folks in our community are aware of the hazards of leaf blowers: the emissions and particulates that impact our health, particularly the health of our most vulnerable populations–our seniors, our sick, and our very young; the loud noise that can damage hearing, elevate stress levels, and disrupt activities; and the hurricane-force air currents that blow away topsoil and natural nutrients, desiccate soil, and disrupt and end insect life cycles. By now leaf blower hazards are well documented and supported by many scientific studies, and so are no longer seriously challenged. Granted, leaf blowers hazards are not the most important problems we face. But banning gas powered leaf blowers is one tangible way we can improve the quality of life for our community and make a step toward limiting fossil fuel in a sector where change has been slow.
Additionally, there is a growing group here, especially those with young children or pets or an interest in the environment, who are moving toward a more sustainable landscape maintenance standard. They are avoiding pesticides and herbicides and embracing native plants and a more natural appearance. They say they no longer expect their yards to look as vacuumed as their living rooms. This group has been eager to see the blowers go.
The big question was what to use in place of leaf blowers. How to keep yards reasonably tidy in the fall? Our very workable answer is to mulch-mow leaves. Lawns can be mowed spring through fall, cutting grass when it’s growing and chopping up leaves when they’re falling. There’s no need for new equipment or training. It takes no extra money, effort or time. In fact, mulch-mowing is easier and faster than blowing, since there is no accumulation of leaves to control as one moves across a property and no need to corral leaves at the end. Leaf confetti can be left on the ground as a natural fertilizer, weed suppressant, and mulch layer, saving money that used to be spent on synthetic fertilizers and herbicides and wood mulch. If the leaf confetti becomes too much to leave, or if the property owner prefers a neater look without leaf confetti, the confetti can be collected in the hopper(s) of the mower and then put in beds or in compost piles or bagged or binned. Municipalities that pick up leaves will find it much easier and cheaper to pick up leaf bags or bins than to collect messy leaf piles on the street left by leaf blowers.
Local landscapers took some time to get used to this approach, but now many are working with it and have started developing methods to save even more time. For example, if the guys are mowing leaves without a hopper, they will run the mowers in patterns that avoid spraying leaf confetti on hard scapes, saving themselves clean-up work.
Going without gas leaf blowers is a change, but it’s a win-win and it’s the way things are going. California has already passed a law that will eventually phase out all fossil fuel equipment. New York’s legislature is considering a similar law. Landscape maintenance companies are developing lines of electric equipment. Professional organizations for landscapers are running workshops on how to best put that new electric equipment to work. Communities are setting up lists on their websites and booths at their Earth Day fairs for landscape companies that use greener methods to reach out to residents.
I think most people appreciate the hard work that landscape companies do to keep our communities well maintained. And we understand that many of those companies are small businesses run by entrepreneurs who may find coping with change very challenging. But the biggest challenge landscape entrepreneurs have right now is probably not growing awareness of leaf blower hazards and sustainable landscape standards, or new electric equipment and new methods, or new codes. The biggest challenge for landscape entrepreneurs who view this change as a problem are other landscape entrepreneurs who view this change as an opportunity.
David fortier says:
Maybe if the government stopped climate engineering the skies with chemicals and weather warfare we would have half the problems that your talking about…
Oh hon…just no words. Weather warfare? Very funny, though like a deranged Saturday Night Live character.
I have three neighbors who use gas powered leaf blowers. When they fire the things up it is necessary to close ALL of my windows. One reason is for the awful noise, the other is to keep out the dust and the smell of gas and exhaust. They generate so much dust one would think a tornado had come through. The same applies to the 2-cycle weed wackers. It is true that electric or battery powered equipment is not quite as powerful as the gas-powered equivalent, but there are now 40-volt machines that come pretty close. Additionally, they are a lot quieter and don’t stink or pollute. Why anyone wants to lug around five gallons of gas and have to mix it with oil is beyond me. I accept the fact that the landscapers will need to charge more for their services to cover increased purchase costs for battery operated equipment, and possibly the increased time on a job. This will be partly offset by not having to purchase gas, and the maintenance of gas engines. I do not accept that they will be “driven” out of business. This is the usual argument against any ban. The people that hire them will continue to do so simply because they have no time or inclination to do yard maintenance themselves. I welcome the day when these mechanical harbingers of Spring are forever banned from the landscape.