Air quality and greenhouse gas emissions continue to be of major global concern. California, especially cities in Silicon Valley and beyond, are taking a stand to dramatically reduce pollutants. In a previous article, we discussed the movement of all-electric homes. California is now shifting this pollution push to the reduction of less obvious sources of greenhouse gases as well as to strive to meet impending Federal ozone standards. This includes the targeting of gas-powered garden equipment.
With an estimated 16 million pieces of gas-powered garden equipment in use, California is contemplating an eventual state-wide ban on small gas engine machinery, especially lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other gas-powered gardening gear. This equipment produces more toxic emissions than vehicles that run on gasoline, thanks in large part to the fact that these small machines don’t include catalytic converters or other emission-reducing devices.
Though automobiles produce more carbon dioxide, small engines generate more toxic emissions. Operating a gas lawn mower for one hour produces the same amount of smog-producing pollutants as driving a 2017 Toyota Camry from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, claims the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Leaf blowers are even worse: that would be equal to the Camary driving from LA to Denver.
In 2020, CARB is reducing the allowable emissions of gas power equipment sold in the state, with a goal of zero emissions by 2022. CARB’s ultimate objective is the complete elimination of all small engine machinery.
Sixty cities in the state already have some form of ban or restrictions on gas-powered garden equipment. Restrictions for use of cleaner, quieter electric/battery-powered blowers and mowers but there are pros and cons to making this transition.
Los Altos was a head of its time, pioneering an outright ban on all gas gardening machinery in 1991. In 2011, the city revisited its decision in large part because of the adverse effects the ban placed on its Parks Department, but the repeal failed.
Palo Alto has banned gas gardening devices in all residential areas while Los Gatos has prohibited them within town limits in 2014, stating that these machines “degrade the quality of life” because of their noise and air pollution. The Town replaced ten blowers at the cost of $13,700 for replacement electric machines and batteries.
Atherton, one of the wealthiest communities in the nation, is seriously considering a ban while San Jose is instituting a buy-back program to help gardening and landscaping businesses fund the transition from gas to electric machines. The city is not considering restrictions or a full-out ban at the time.
Gas operated equipment has been more prevalent among landscaping and gardening businesses, primarily because of the machine’s ability to minimize the time and expense needed to maintain large areas such as parks, parking lots and expansive yards that don’t offer access to electricity. In addition to reducing pollution and cancer risk due to repeated exposure to fumes, electric machines save on fuel and maintenance of the equipment itself but offer less power, performance and increase the time per job. Corded machines limit use to smaller residential yards while battery-operated equipment can require multiple battery changes to complete a large landscaping maintenance project.
The potential economic impact for landscaping companies is high, which is why many of them would prefer a phase out of gas instead of an immediate ban, which would require a heavy investment in new equipment including numerous extra lithium ion batteries.
Each battery can run for 20 to 60 minutes and typically has a six-year shelf life, depending upon the number of times it is charged. Once these batteries are non-functioning, they must be disposed of, and therein lies another potential issue.
Lithium ion batteries are ubiquitous, found in just about every device we use today. The Federal Government doesn’t (currently) view lithium ion batteries as an environmental hazard and states they can be disposed of in the normal municipal waste stream. They can be recycled but as they have a very limited scrap value, most are ending up in landfill. The potential of billions of batteries being dumped in our landfill could ultimately yet another environmental issue if the U.S. doesn’t follow the European Union’s path of instituting a battery recycling law.
Protecting our environment is a must by reducing our local and global carbon footprint. We can all make small changes that add up to a larger impact. We would love to know your thoughts on the movement from gas to one hundred percent electricity, be it homes, vehicles or gardening equipment.