turn off that /%* leaf blower!
Banning leaf blowers to improve our environment
By Louise Legault
October 5, 2023
A beautiful fall day. The sun is shining, there is that little nip in the air. You step outside and there it is, that pesky high-pitched whine. A leaf blower… and then another… and yet another: a whole chorus of them over an afternoon! Gathering leaves used to be a peaceful activity, a bit meditative, an opportunity to take stock of our garden as we raked them. It would end with a great pile of leaves the kids would run into with wild abandon.
Like everything else, raking leaves has fallen prey to our times: gathering leaves now has to be fast and efficient… and noisy. Electric, battery-operated, 2-stroke and 4-stroke gas engine-powered leaf blowers, an increasing number of brands fight over diminishing market shares. Thrust by competition, the leaf blower has muscled up over time – bigger is always better, isn’t it? – and become quite the machine. Meant to pick up leaves, the leaf blower now doubles as a gutter cleaner, a broom for those pesky little bits of grass that mar your entrance after mowing, and for those big clean-up jobs in the spring and fall: man’s creativity has no limits when it comes to using a shiny new tool.
Just how much noise can one of those engines make? Some reach as high as 80-90 decibels, a level at which sustained exposure can cause hearing loss. Accordingly, landscapers wear ear protection when working with gardening apparatus. On this basis, municipalities and boroughs across Canada and the United States have banned the use of leaf blowers at certain times of the day or year as well as the use of noisier 2-stroke gas models in the case of the boroughs of CDN-NDG, Le Sud-Ouest, Pierrefonds-Roxboro, Verdun and Ville-Marie in Montreal. Unfortunately, 10 of the 19 Montreal boroughs have no regulations whatsoever on leaf blowers and other gardening apparatus.
Some leaf blowers reach as high as 80-90 decibels, a level at which sustained exposure can cause hearing loss. Accordingly, landscapers wear ear protection when working with gardening apparatus.
If it were only a question of noise. Gas-powered leaf blowers emit CO², one of the main culprits in climate change. In an hour, a gas-powered leaf blower can emit the equivalent of a Toyota Camry over 1,770 kilometres, the distance between Montreal and Nashville, TN. Multiply that by the number of leaf blowers in your neighbourhood, and you have yourself a regular traffic jam! Maybe that landscaper should also wear a mask to avoid breathing in all those fumes. No wonder a growing number of municipalities and boroughs are banning gas-powered leaf blowers altogether: the borough of Outremont, for one, is to be followed this fall by the cities of Westmount and Montreal-West.
The enforcement of these regulations is proving somewhat complicated, with not everyone being able to distinguish between a 2-stroke and a 4-stroke leaf blower. The respect for such regulation can only go hand-in-hand with greater awareness and changes in behaviour that will become more and more necessary as climate change progresses.
There is a reason why landscapers also wear goggles. (Ear protection, mask, goggles: all that’s missing is the hazmat suit!) Leaf blowers don’t only blow leaves around, they also kick up quite a bit of dust loaded with moulds and allergens. Batten down the hatches when the landscaper shows up at your complex!
‘In an hour, a gas-powered leaf blower can emit the equivalent of a Toyota Camry over 1,770 kilometres, the distance between Montreal and Nashville, TN.’
Leaf blowers also contribute to another environmental scourge: the loss of biodiversity. Studies have shown that almost 1 million species of plants and animals are currently faced with extinction. North America has 3 billion birds less than 50 years ago, while insects have also declined drastically.
Guess what birds eat? Early morning and late afternoon, like clockwork, you used to hear the 8-note riff of the robin; swallows would swoop in the sky in the early evening, followed by the metallic rustle of bats. Remember when you would come back from a drive with the windshield plastered with bugs? No more. In large part, gone are the fireflies of our youth. Mosquitoes don’t even bother our late-night BBQs. Our children are inheriting a much more sterile environment, one that lacks the wonders of earlier times.
It turns out that leaf blowers wreak havoc in a long-established cycle: under the leaves, insects would lay their eggs, larvae would form and ensure the next generation come spring. Take away the leaves in fall or hurry to pick up any remaining in early spring, and out goes the next generation. What is an avid gardener to do?
Overall, we could all reduce our standards for lawn care, and biodiversity would be all the better for it. More and more organizations are pushing for a Leave the Leaves mandate to protect winter habitats. Leaves can be used as mulch in flower beds and at the foot of trees and shrubs. Others turn them into mulch on the spot, running the lawnmower over them to transform them into the fertilizer they were meant to be.
‘… we could all reduce our standards for lawn care, and biodiversity would be all the better for it. More and more organizations are pushing for a Leave the Leaves mandate to protect winter habitats.’
You have likely noticed areas in your local park that are left to grow, providing habitat for insects and pollinators alike, the whole season long. By planting indigenous grasses, flowers and bushes, we could reduce our workload and help the pollinators make a comeback. Many gardeners have “rewilded” their little slice of paradise and are pleased to report the birds and the bees have made a comeback. Alternatives to the lawn have also cropped up in recent years, creating a carpet of green that is far less monotonous.
There is nothing like watching a toddler follow the flight of a butterfly or pick up a colourful bug. Now, if they could only turn that /%* leaf blower off!
To learn how you can ask your city or borough to ban leaf blowers, please contact the Coalition for Green and Quiet Neighborhoods at email@example.com
Feature image: Vlad Vasnetsov – Pixabay
Louise Legault is a member of the Les Amis du Parc Meadowbrook steering committee. The group has defended the St. Pierre River and the Meadowbrook golf course from residential development for 30 years in order to create a nature park linked to the Falaise Saint-Jacques and the Sud-Ouest through the dalle-parc. lesamisdemeadowbrook.org