Several years ago my stepfather bought himself a new leaf blower. There was nothing wrong with his old one, he just always liked to have the best, newest and shiniest toys on the block, so when a new model came out he bought it. I inherited the old one.
I had never owned a leaf blower before. I never thought I needed one. My yard is rather small and it seemed silly to me to spend the money on an appliance that I would probably use one day per year. But after using my new toy one time I was hooked. "I'm never raking leaves again," I thought. This thing not only blows the leaves effortlessly into a large pile, it also then reverses to a mulching vacuum that sucks up the leaves and deposits them into a waiting receptacle, in my case a 30 gallon trash can. You can fit 100 gallons of leaves into the 30 gallon can because of the chopping and compression effect of the vacuum. Then I can carry the can full of half-digested leaves to my compost pile. It made quick and easy work of a boring and laborious job.
So I was telling someone today that I was going to blow my leaves this weekend was completely surprised by her response: "You have a leaf blower?" She asked in an accusing tone of voice.
"Yes", I replied sheepishly, not sure of why she seemed to think this to be a bad thing. So I asked her, "what's wrong with leaf blowers?"
"Why, leaf blowers are bad for the environment!" she said with a note of disdain.
"They are?" I asked. "Why are they bad for the environment?" The only salient point she made in opposition was that it was bad to suck up your leaves, put them into trash bags and then sent them to a landfill.
"But, I put mine in a compost pile!" I protested. She didn't care. The judge had already convicted me.
But being a man of principle and interested in environmental matters, I decided that I would rake my leaves today instead of using the evil leaf blower. After a couple of hours of raking, though, I began to develop a case in defense of the maligned power tool.
Googling "leaf blowers bad for the environment" yields quite a few arguments against leaf blowers. Here are a few. I do not know if these are the ones that my friend was thinking about, but apparently these are pretty common. I'll offer my refutation after each point:
Blowers use fossil fuel needlessly. My leaf blower is electric powered. Sure, it does require some coal-fired produced electricity to operate, but if I turn off my lights and TV while I'm using it, it's probably about a wash.
The American Lung Association says that a leaf blower causes as much smog as 17 cars. As much smog as 17 cars? OK, this is just silly. I'm not even going to respond to this one.
A study of 9535 workers exposed to noise greater than 85dB with modern hearing protection programs indicates that 34% had noise-induced hearing loss. Fourteen percent had severe hearing loss. (The September 2003 CONSUMER REPORTS indicates that very few brands of leaf blowers emit less than 90dB to the person using them.) Granted they are noisy, but I have a dog that lives next door to me who barked the entire time I was raking leaves. His bark is much louder than my leaf blower.
A German study indicates that cardiac patients have a 25% greater chance on hearth attacks in environments that were persistently exposed to noise above 65 decibels. According to the September 2003 CONSUMER REPORTS very few brands of leaf blowers are less than 65 dB at 50 feet. There is a cardiac patient that lives next door to me, but he's further than 50 feet away so I don't think I'm endangering him too much.
A Japanese study of 1000 babies produced evidence of high proportion of low-weight babies in noisy areas. OK, I am pretty sure there are no pregnant Japanese women in my neighborhood.
And then there is that bagged leaf argument already admitted as evidence above, and rendered moot by my composting.
Now it's my turn to go after the rake users:
Blisters - What about all of the oil used in the production of the ointments and antibiotics thatI need for my hands? And the packaging? And the fuel used to produce it and transport it to Rite Aid? Treating my blisters is bad for the environment.
Aching Muscles - I know that tomorrow I am going to be paying the price for my labor. I'll have to break out the Icy Hot. That would mean a whole other list of petrochemicals and resident energy it took to produce and deliver it, but enough is enough. I'll tough it out for the sake of the Northern Water Shrew.
Electricity - Since the raking took me until after dark to complete, I had to turn on the floodlights in the back yard to see what I was doing. I felt guilty using the several hundred watts that it took for the hour or so to finish up, but at least I wasn't using a leaf blower.
Wear and Tear on the Lawn - Who knows how much money, time and chemicals I'm going to have to spend on my lawn next spring to repair the damage that the rake did, tearing out the grass by the roots.
All in all, I think the environmental impact of my leaf blowing would be difficult to measure and prove worse than say, the impact of smoking a cigarette or two a few times a month.
I think I'm keeping my leaf blower, thank you.