Friday, June 3, 2011

It's your planet. Don't blow it.

Ahhh. Springtime. You wake up with the light streaming through the window and the birds tweeting and twittering in the trees, thinking of all of the great things ahead of you for the weekend. And suddenly, your reverie is broken by the sound of a roaring leaf blower.

I'll never quite understand the appeal of these loud, debris-stirring devices. Gardening, to me, is a peaceful experience. My garden is where I do a lot of thinking and connecting with nature. And I can't hear nature talk to me if the growl of a leaf blower is roaring in the neighborhood. Plus, using a good old fashioned broom is a good way to burn some calories.

And leaf blowers can also be bad for the environment. A post on The Daily Green lists these 4 Reasons Not to Use a Leaf Blower:

 Why are gas leaf blowers so offensive? 

1. They pollute the air. 
A single gas-powered leaf blower can emit as much pollution in a year as 80 cars

2. They're noisy.  
A normal decibel level, considered acceptable in residential areas, is about 60 decibels (60dB). Every increase in decibels means noise that is 10 times louder. Leaf-blowers usually generate about 70-75 dB. According to the U.S. EPA this level of noise actually degrades quality of life by interfering with communication and sleep, leads to reduced accuracy of work and increased levels of aggravation, which can linger hours after exposure. 

3. They worsen allergies and asthma and irritate the lungs.
Because they operate at such high velocities, leaf blowers stir up the mold, allergens, and dust particles that otherwise have been tamped down with rain and decomposition. 

4. They waste gas
Rakes and even electric-lawn blowers offer a petroleum-free alternative.

But there is a fifth very big way that leaf blowers can be bad for the planet.

When used incorrectly, leaf blowers can help to cause polluted waterways. Why? Because if you blow your grass clippings and leaves into the street, rather than back into your yard, the next rain is going to wash them into the stormdrains whihc lead to our waterways. Once there, the nutrients in the grass, even if you don't use chemical fertilizers, can cause algae blooms which can kill plants and desirable animal life.

This document, entitled "Improper Mowing of Lawns Can Impact Water Quality" on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website describes this process:

Cutting turf and impacting water quality sound like completely unrelated topics. However, the improper handling of clippings is a very important way in which nutrients are inadvertently introduced into our water sources. What is the form of the nutrient? Well, it is not a standard chemical fertilizer, but for all intents and purposes it is ‘slow release fertilizer’: it’s your clippings. The leaf blades and stems that are discharged by your mower are comprised of all the nutrients required for plant growth and development. In general, your lawn clippings contain around 4% nitrogen, 0.5 to 1% phosphorus, and 1 to 2 % potassium by weight. And it is the nitrogen and phosphorus that are major concerns for water quality as they both can incite eutrophication of water sources. Eutrophication occurs when nutrient levels in the water become so large that prolific algal blooms occur; these algal blooms consume most of the oxygen in the water and other desirable plant and animal life dies. So, you now see the link between lawn clippings and eutrophication. But let me defend my turf… pun intended! The reason clippings can contribute to eutrophication is us, not the turfgrass. When you make those first few passes with the mower along the street, do you think to throw the clippings back into the lawn, or, as many seem to do, into the street? Or worse still, have you ever seen folks take their leaf blowers and blow piles of clippings into the street in order to clear their sidewalks, driveways, or lawns? The next time it rains, where is all this slow-release fertilizer headed? Straight to the nearest storm drain and eventually to a local water source. Lawn clippings on hardscapes ultimately end up in our water sources. Protect water quality by ensuring that clippings remain in your turf. Fortunately, the solution to this problem is pretty simple. Put the clippings to work for you by returning them to the lawn.               Read full document here.

So pick up a broom and sweep your clippings back into your lawn or add them to your compost. Remember, It's Your Planet. Don't Blow It!

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