A Leaf Blower Debate

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Nov 132011
 

It is the time of the falling leaves. Lots of them, mainly oak and maple around here. And self-respecting homeowners know there’s a moral obligation to deal with them. Montogomery County Maryland knows it too. We have giant leaf sucking collection machines that come around and gather them up in piles left by the curbs. There’s good use made of them too. The county mixes the leaves with ground up tree trimmings and sells a high quality mulch to farmers, gardeners, and landscapers. 

Pile of leaves and leaf rake

Today was a day to catch up on the leaves, nearly the last of the season. And I was about to get the leaf rake out of the garage when a tempting thought occurred. I could run up to Lowe’s and buy a leaf blower like so many of the neighbors use. Actually, if I listen, I can hear them running in the distance. The neighbors who use them seem to take a long time to blow the leaves into piles, and some of them blow the yard entirely clean of leaves. They work till they get every last one.  I could do that too.  I decided to research this before heading to the store.

When you shop for a leaf blower you have a choice of several types: electric (plug in a cord and pull it around), 2-cycle gasoline (measure and mix oil with the gas), and 4-cycle gasoline (use straight gas but make sure you have oil in the tank). And then you have brands to choose from: Husqvarna, Troy, Black & Decker, Weed Eater, Poulan, Hitachi, and others I never heard of.

I decided that dragging an electric cord around was not for me. I found that the 4-cycle models are more expensive than the 2-cycles, and I don’t have a problem with the need to mix oil. It looked like the price range for a brand and model I favored would be around $125. I could afford that.

It was there at the point of getting my wallet and heading to the car that I began to debate this decision. I remembered reading that small lawnmower-type engines are highly polluting, and I looked up some information. I found a Swedish study concluding that air pollution from cutting grass for an hour with a gasoline powered lawn mower is about the same as from a 100-mile automobile trip. I found that according to the EPA some 54 million Americans mow their lawns with gas-powered mowers each weekend, and this may be contributing as much as 5% of the nation’s air pollution.

I began to question my intention to buy a leaf blower. Why should I burn gasoline to accomplish something I can do just as well by hand? Why should I increase the clutter of the garage by adding another machine? Why buy a machine that has no use except for a few short weeks of the year? Why add to the noise and fumes of the neighborhood when I can do just as well with an inexpensive hand rake.

Have you ever wandered around among all the kitchen appliances and powered gadgets you can purchase to “save your time and effort”? These include robot tea infusers, digital measuring spoons, electronic nutcrackers, frozen fruit soft serve processors, self stirring electric pots, retractable kitchen islands controlled by iPhone, radio toasters that “wake you to the sweet smell of perfectly toasted bread with your favorite artiste singing in the background,” electronic fuzzy rice cookers, text message controllers for pretty much everything in your kitchen, and more kinds of coffee makers than there are kinds of coffee. This is just a tiny sample.

I thought about the disconnect between our world-wide energy crisis and all the “energy saving” devices we manufacture and hook up. Whose energy are all these saving? We are “saving” ourselves the energy of chopping something by hand, opting to get out a machine, connect it, load it, turn it on, and then clean it up later. We are “saving” ourselves the energy of leaf raking by hand, opting to get out a machine, fill it with oil and gasoline, start the thing up, and make noise and smoke as we blow the leaves into a pile. And for these labor savings we will drill baby drill at any cost and risk to extract the last gallons of oil the earth has left.

It was a cool, fall day with a bright sun and a little breeze. I got out my rake and enjoyed the effort.

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