Frequently Asked Questions

1.Why are we proposing to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers?

The bylaw Arlington is considering would phase out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers (GPLBs) because of their dangerous noise and pollution. Other communities in Massachusetts including Belmont, Winchester, Somervile and Cambridge are also working toward phasing out gas-powered leaf blowers. Lexington has just passed a noise-reduction bylaw that will ban GPLBs in 2025, and the State of Massachusetts is considering Bill H.868, an Act to establish a grant program for low noise, low emissions landscape maintenance equipment.

2. What's the main problem with GPLBs?

The adverse effects – noise and pollution – are borne by workers and, without their consent, by Arlington residents. The use of gas-powered leaf blowers comes with costs to public health, the environment, and quality of life in our community, including stressful noise and toxic pollution imposed on entire neighborhoods at a time.

This issue is similar to that of secondhand smoke. Once the harmful effects of secondhand smoke were understood, there was a movement to ban smoking in public places. This caused alarm on the part of restaurant and bar owners, who feared they would suddenly go out of business. In fact, when the laws passed, restaurants and bars were still full of patrons. Today, it is a non-issue for the businesses, and it seems strange that the public was ever forced to be exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke.

3. Are there alternatives?

Cleaner, quieter electric-powered alternatives are available. It has been claimed that restricting GPLB use would seriously hurt lawn care companies and their customers. It's true that the companies would have the inconvenience of having to replace one specific piece of equipment with an updated model using a different source of power, but they will not be driven out of business. Customers will still be able to get high quality maintenance service, and the cost need not increase very much, if at all. Businesses will adapt and stay in business. This article compares commercial leaf blowers. For more information about electric lawn care equipment, see The Fully Electric Future of Landscape Maintenance.

For individuals who use a blower on their property, the cost of electric leaf blowers is about the same as gas-powered ones, and they are powerful enough to do the job. It should not be a hardship to buy an electric model within 4 years, or to maintain a lawn to the owners satisfaction with the updated equipment. Consumer Reports compares consumer-grade leaf blowers.

4. Does the noise from GPLBs impact health?

GPLBs have a unique low-frequency, wall-penetrating noise that makes them sound much louder than electric blowers. A single commercial-grade GPLB emits roughly 77 decibels at 50 feet and roughly 100 decibels at the ear of the operator. 85 decibels is enough to cause hearing damage after two hours exposure, and 100 decibels can cause hearing damage within 15 minutes. [ARUP]

Noise not only affects hearing but also has a negative impact on the cardiovascular and immune system and on children’s development. Low-frequency noise such as emitted by gas blowers is such a special health concern that additional protection is warranted, especially for children, the elderly, and other sensitive populations.[Fink, p. 12; Banks, p. 2, 10, Elkins2, p. 3; Fallows2, p. 7]

5. How are workers affected by the noise?

The noise is especially hazardous for workers. The National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health recommends limiting exposure to 100 decibels (the noise at the ear from a single GPLB) to 15 minutes per day to avoid permanent hearing loss, but landscape workers are exposed to this noise for many hours each day. [OSHA]

Workers operating GPLBs are frequently immigrants or non-native speakers of English; may not be well-equipped to find legal or medical representation when needed are not covered by generous corporate medical plans; and are not likely to be working for the same company a decade from now, when the most serious hearing loss sets in.

6. Can't workers wear hearing protectors?

Hearing protectors are useful, but they don’t work unless worn and fitted correctly. In addition, many hearing protectors on the market can’t reduce the noise of a 100+ decibel machine down to the required 85-decibel OSHA standard. This is very important because the CDC has found that even two hours of exposure to 85-decibel noise can cause permanent hearing loss.

7. How does GPLB noise compare with noise from electric leaf blowers?

The noise from GPLBs affects far more residents than electric leaf blowers would. The 50-foot industry standard underestimates the noise for Arlington, where many lots are smaller. At 20 feet, the noise from that single GPLB would reach 85 decibels.

The far-reaching noise of GPLBs often comes at neighborhoods from many different directions for lengthy periods, penetrating walls, disrupting lives, reducing productivity, and contributing to stress-related health issues associated with loud noise, including anxiety, hypertension, and heart disease.

* After: Jamie Banks, “Report in Support of the Leaf Blower Regulation Amendment Act of 2017, Bill 22-234, DC Council of the Whole, 2018.

8. Is the noise from multiple blowers much worse?

The noise from multiple blowers is compounded exponentially. In the picture to the left, the electric blowers are in green, the gas-powered ones in red. The electric blowers are at least ten decibels quieter than the gas powered blowers. The picture also shows how the noise is compounded. Notice that it takes four electric blowers to equal the noise of one gas blower.

Source: ANSI B175.2-2012; ANSI: American National Standards Institute; dBA: A-weighted decibels

[CDC]

9.What about the pollution from GPLBs?

Gas-powered leaf blowers emit toxic particulates and other pollutants. Gas blowers' dirty, two-stroke engines burn oil mixed with gas. This fuel produces toxic particulates and volatile organic compounds such as carcinogenic benzene. These are inhaled by equipment operators, residents, and passers-by. Even short-term exposure can be harmful. Workers, children, seniors, and people with chronic illness are at greatest risk. Operating a single GPLB for just one hour emits as much smog-forming pollution as driving a Toyota Camry 1,100 miles, roughly the distance from Boston to Atlanta.

10. What impact do GPLBs have on the environment & climate?

A recent article on Lawn Maintenance and Climate Change describes the negative impact on the environment of lawns and the way we care for them in the United States, specifically with gas-powered equipment.

"...over 40 million acres of land are covered by lawn, or, more specifically, turf grass. While lawns can function as “carbon sinks,” soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, this benefit is often outweighed by the heavy carbon cost associated with the maintenance of these lawns. Rather than alleviating climate change, lawns may be contributing to it. The main culprits are lawn equipment, specifically gas powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers, and synthetic fertilizers. Ultimately, Americans should consider alternatives for the technological and chemical ways they are treating their lawns, and even consider the potential of changing the structure of their lawn entirely.”

At this point in our local fight to mitigate and adapt to climate change using gas-powered leaf blowers conflict with Arlington's climate goals. Gas-powered leaf blowers:

  • emit greenhouse gasses which drive climate change

  • undermine these substantial positions taken by Arlington in 202:

- the Town's Climate Emergency declaration

- Arlington Net Zero Action Plan approved by the Select Board

With Global Carbon Emissions in 2021 the Highest in History, and rapidly increasing climate change impacts from the Antarctic to the Arctic, it is critical to cut our emissions now. It's time to retire dirty two-stroke engines such as those in gas-powered leaf blowers.

Further emphasizing this point, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate Change 2022 has just issued this warning. "Any further delay ... will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all."

11. Are any landscapers in our community using electric equipment?

A number of landscapers already offer services with cleaner, quieter alternatives. See this list of local landscapers using electric equipment. One in our area, for instance, has been using electric-powered equipment for eight years while growing his business—his service area now includes a dozen towns, including Arlington. He also recommends using a leaf plow, such as instead of a gas leaf blower to move heavy wet leaves. It's much more efficient, he says.

The Arlington Facilities Department is showing the way by replacing GPLBs when they wear out with electric alternatives.

12. Do electric leaf blowers cost more for landscapers?

Initial costs are higher for battery-powered leaf blowers because of the cost of batteries and chargers, but operating costs—both energy costs and maintenance—are lower for battery-powered blowers than for GPLBs. Actual costs depend on many factors, such as how often GPLBs are replaced. For this reason, we have obtained a range of estimates from the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA), which has done extensive research into the transition to electric landscaping.

AGZA’s data indicate that over a four-year period, the annual cost of switching from GPLBs to battery-operated blowers ranges from essentially zero to $1,250 for a crew using three blowers.

The costs of electric equipment are likely to decrease over the 3-year phase-out period. Major suppliers of gas-powered equipment, such as Stihl and Husqvarna, are now actively competing in the electric-equipment market, and battery technology is improving. This article compares five commercial-grade leaf blowers including two gas-powered leaf blowers at $350-$300, and three electric models at $120-$500. The writer notes: "For performance, this type of leaf blower (handheld electric) outperforms the gasoline counterparts and they cost less."

13. How expensive are consumer-grade electric leaf blowers?

A recent Consumer Reports article compares and rates leaf blowers.

"In the handheld category, gas and battery blowers can each make quick work of leaves and are still the fastest way to clear a yard full of leaves. The best corded-electric blowers are powerful enough for many big jobs, though you’ll have to stay within 100 feet of a power outlet. (Most outdoor extension cords top out at that length.) Gas handheld leaf blowers go anywhere, but they weigh and cost more than corded electrics—and they’re noisier. They also require fueling and maintenance. Cordless electric, also called battery-powered leaf blowers, now offer power on a par with gas models, but they have limited run time per battery charge—expect 8 to 30 minutes on a charge.

Backpack blowers typically cost more than handheld blowers, but they offer more power and transfer weight from your arms to your back and shoulders. Backpacks tip the scales at 22 pounds, but this type can still feel lighter than a 10-pound handheld blower because the weight is better distributed. These are best for large lawns, and you can go with a traditional gas-powered backpack blower or a battery-powered model. Battery types are relative newcomers to the field, and in our tests, the best of these can hold their own against gas when it comes to sweeping power.”

Price range of recommended models in the article:

Gas hand held $270 (1 review)

Battery handheld avg: $242, range: $130-540 (19 reviews)

Electric (corded) handheld$65-$100 (5 reviews)

Battery Backpack $300-350 (2 reviews)

Gas Backpack $250-480 (6 reviews)

14. Will the transition to electric blowers increase prices for removing leaves?

In some cases, yes, but in many cases, little or not at all. Most of the electric-equipment landscapers we have contacted indicate that they are cost-competitive and usually charge either similar or only modestly higher prices. Costs depend on many factors, including lot size, tree cover, and the extent to which landscapers have adapted their work to accommodate the currently lower power of battery-powered blowers. Local competition also influences costs. Currently, few local landscapers provide electric service, and one indicated that he cannot keep up with the demand for his services.

It’s essential to recognize that the price landscapers charge today for work with GPLBs does not represent the full social cost of using this equipment. Much of that cost is borne by others, in the form of stressful noise involuntarily imposed on neighbors and the impact on workers’ health and the environment.

15. How does changing landscaping practices help?

Landscapers who use electric equipment say they have found changing a few practices, such as mulching leaves, saves time and is good for lawns, beneficial insects and birds. For information about mulching leaves and other garden-friendly practices, see Leave Leaves Alone.

You can also ask your landscaper about using rakes or electric blowers instead of gas-powered leaf blowers. Many landscapers offer these services, but only if you ask.

To learn more about steps you can take to make your landscaping practices more sustainable and healthier for everyone see Healthy Yards. For information about leaving leaves for pollinators see Leave the Leaves

16. Can electric leaf-blower batteries be recycled?

Yes. Most electric leaf blowers use lithium-ion batteries, or LIBs. LIBs are also widely used in electric vehicles, which has helped create rapidly increasing demand for, as well as investment in, LIB recycling. The global market for LIB recycling is projected to grow by 19.4% annually during the next few years and to reach $10.7 billion by 2026. The fast growth is supported by government investments and regulations aimed at ramping up LIB recycling to address environmental concerns, alleviate supply-chain problems, and conserve national supplies of high-value materials. In time this trend should offset much of the environmental costs of lithium mining, most notably depletion of water resources and water pollution. Chile and Australia lead the world in lithium reserves.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy launched the ReCell Center to carry out R&D on LIB recycling. Its goal is to help make LIB recycling profitable, as well as to enable the U.S. to become self-sufficient in battery resources it lacks, such as cobalt, which can be recovered from LIBs along with lithium and other materials.

One of America's leaders in LIB recycling happens to be nearby: Ascend Elements, based in Westborough, Mass. The company has developed an innovative method to recycle LIBs that yields key components for new batteries that were recently shown to perform “as good as—or even better than—the commercial material that we’ve been importing,” according to Linda Gaines, the ReCell Center’s chief scientist. Ascend raised $90 million last year and recently opened North America’s largest LIB recycling center in Georgia. The company plans to further expand its LIB recycling and battery materials manufacturing operations in 2022 and 2023.

Sources:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/recycled-lithium-ion-batteries-can-perform-better-than-new-ones/

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/global-lithium-ion-battery-recycling-market-report-2022-market-to-reach-10-7-billion-by-2026---ev-commercialization-push-up-pressure-on-lithium-ion-battery-recycling-301465692.html

https://americanrecycler.com/8568759/index.php/news/electronics-recycling/5198-challenges-continue-to-grow-as-the-ev-battery-recycling-market-advances