• Written by: Margaretha Levander

"It's time to address gas leaf blowers – again"

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

Even though gas-powered leaf blowers are banned in many Bay Area cities, people continue to use them. Mark Grossman – a 350 Silicon Valley organizer – constructed a free e-blower lending station for his neighbors, but no one seems interested.

INTERVIEW Using gas-powered leaf blowers is illegal in several cities in the Bay Area, but almost no one seems to care. At least not enough to ask their gardener to switch to an electrical tool, or perhaps paying them more to cover the extra cost and time.

"In my neighborhood in Palo Alto, nine out of ten homes are still using gas-powered leaf blowers," said Mark Grossman, an organizer with 350 Silicon Valley.

Gas-powered leaf blowers use two-stroke engines, which are smaller and cheaper than the four-stroke engines used in cars but more polluting, smelling, and noisy. As a comparison, The California Environmental Protection Agency estimated that operating a commercial leaf blower for one hour would emit more pollution than driving a 2016 Toyota Camry for about 1,100 miles.

The city of Palo Alto – where Grossman lives - banned gas leaf blower back in 2005, more than 15 years ago.

Were you active in the debate before the ban?

"Not really; I thought it was a good idea because the gas blowers smell and are noisy, but it was before I became engaged in the climate movement."

Many homeowners use a gardening service; is that part of the problem?

"Most likely, but I also use the service of a gardener, and after we had a discussion, he switched to an electrical blower."

What have you done to convince others to follow your example?

"I posted a bi-lingual warning handout on Nextdoor and talked to gardeners working in my block. They were understanding but had several reasons against switching like 'it is too expensive', 're-charging the batteries would slow us down,' and 'the cord would keep getting tangled. I even told them that I am suffering from asthma, which is made worse from the pollution."

Do you have an understanding of their arguments?

"Yes, batteries are still expensive, and the cost needs to be passed on to the customer. But I also thought that, well, I am an engineer, I could perhaps help them with to solve the re-charging problem."

"If thought that if I could solve this for my block, then other areas could follow our example."

Grossman thought about constructing a charging station for the block, which all gardeners and homeowners could use and where there were always fully charged batteries for a quick switch.

"I thought the whole program, that I nicknamed Blow-Ops, could be scaled to every block in town. But one of my neighbors offered his plug/in/blower to share, so I build an outdoor enclosure so people could access it."

" But then, one neighbor offered up his plug-in blower to share, so I built an outdoor enclosure so people could access it."

Since then, nothing has happened. Grossman has informed homeowners, property managers, and gardeners that they are free to use the station, but no one has shown up.

It is illegal to use gas blowers. Have you considered contacting the police?

"No, that is not the way I want to do it."

Grossman believes that the key is to get the homeowners themselves to see the advantages of using and paying for electrical leaf blowers for the climate and their health.

"There is also an overuse of gas blowers; they are being used as rakes and shovels to make gardens look clean, but some debris should be left as mulch."

Los Altos was one of the first cities in the Bay Area to prohibit gas-powered leaf blowers in 1991. Palo Alto followed in 2005. And ten years later, Los Gatos banned gas-powered leaf blowers. San Jose floated a buyback program last year to make it more affordable to replace gas-powered lawn equipment.

For Mark Grossman, this whole endeavor exemplifies the challenge in the trenches of the war against climate change; "Old habits, and old fossil fuel-based economics, die hard."