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A world without leaf blowers

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

Leaf blowers began as handheld crop dusters that were worn as backpacks and used to spray pesticides on greenhouse plants. The key difference between the original leaf blower and your neighbor’s? Modern leaf blowers do not contain pesticides, but can be just as destructive to you and the environment. They lead to soil erosion, root damage, pollution (including carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and unburned fuels), and loss of habitat for pollinators and wildlife. Your health is equally jeopardized. According to ZME Science, “workers running a leaf blower are exposed to ten times more ultra-fine particles than someone standing next to a busy road.” The list goes on.

In response to the increasing use of leaf blowers, communities have responded with “leaf blower bans” to curb the noise, emissions, and effects of the equipment. National organizations, including the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA) and the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) have teamed to make a large-scale transition from gas-powered equipment to battery-powered. With the goal of low-impact and sustainable outcomes, the groups plan to work with federal, state, and local governments to provide resources and training on electric equipment.

To achieve a truly long term solution, however, it will take more than updated equipment and training. Few plans exist for this transition and costs will impact everyone from property owners to local landscape companies to workers; it will only put a band-aid on the larger issue. This is why we're neutral on the issue of leaf blower bans. While, it's clear that gasoline-powered equipment is exacting a terrible ecological cost, we're dedicated to addressing the root of the problem: high-maintenance landscapes. Roots Down is leading its Fruitful Communities Initiative to reframe how communities use green space. Instead of fast-growing grass lawns that produce nothing and take hours of energy and water, think of pollinator plants, fruit bushes and vines, and fruit-bearing trees next to your library, school, or business. Not only are these plants producers, but they also fuel a more diverse ecosystem, replenish nutrients in soil, provide food, and beautify the community.

These shifts to permacultural Productive Urban Landscapes (PULs) will undoubtedly require time, effort, funding, and community support to succeed. To guide the process, Roots Down has created the Grower Program, a multi-faceted approach which engages local government, community colleges, and universities. The program educates landscapers on how to design, build, and maintain PULs, while also offering courses and certification for students and residents interested in learning more. This hands-on experience will enable the next generation of landscapers to use their knowledge and skills to be part of a truly sustainable solution where gasoline-powered lawn equipment isn't necessary to begin with.

Roots Down is dedicated to showing city and county governments how they can grow more Fruitful Communities by converting public spaces to PUL's, and providing continuing education curricula for college students and landscapers. Help us continue our mission to convert all public urban land into Productive Urban Landscapes by becoming a Roots Down member.


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