In the red corner we have the Leaf Blower:
“Almost all that is good and bad with the world today can be summed up by this one indefensibly stupid lump of plastic and metal“*
In the green corner we have the humble rake [or the broom depending on the task, but I reside Down Under and there are leaves falling, so rake it is].
For years I’ve used this question whilst giving general presentations about sustainability – ‘which is better, the leaf blower or the rake?’ I’ll come back to the metaphorical answer in a sequel post [it’s not clear-cut]. But first we need to address the direct question.
- Leaf blowers burn fossil fuels and emit Greenhouse gases, rakes don’t [petrol/gas or electric, same difference]. Exhaust pollution per leaf blower per hour is the equivalent of the amount of smog from 17 cars driven one hour and is localized in the area of blower usage (source);
- Leaf blowers require maintenance and have ongoing costs, rakes don’t [ok, maybe a fresh nail once in a few years];
- One leaf blower could buy 10 rakes, about 5 lifetime’s worth – based on a $200 price (2 year warranty only) and $10 rake + $10 broom… you can get cheaper for all but we know how that will end (back at the start);
- Leaf blowers blow particulate matter (PM) into the air [air speed generally around 250km/h+], composed of dust, fecal matter, pesticides, fungi, chemicals, fertilizers, spores, and street dirt which consists of lead and organic and elemental carbon (source). Check out how many places banned leaf blowers in the US! Anyone got kids who get asthma…? Banning leaf blowers… hmmm…
- Leaf blowers operate at about 70 Decibels [‘annoyingly loud’] at 15m and 90dB for the operator! – safe noise levels are around 60dB [half as loud as 70dB]. Rakes operate at… well, the sound of raking leaves. I can’t recall ever being woken up on a weekend morning by someone raking leaves. Wish I had – it would mean I could hear something besides the sound of frigging leaf blowers… mind you it’s the only time I can swear out the front of the house without being heard… erm… off track;
- Raking burns around 50 calories per hour, leaf blowers burn fossil fuels [oh sorry, I already mentioned that didnt’ I?].
- Raking gives you time and enough quiet to think, leaf blowers are so noisy you can’t think at all. Unless your kids are playing in the leaves you’ve raked up.. then it’s getting back to nearly even.
‘Oh, but leaf blowers save so much time!’ I hear you say. Do they? Do they really? If you truly believe that, have you ever tested it? I’m yet to meet anyone in person who has. Others have, and the worst result that I managed to find concluded that leaf blowers are ‘twice as fast’ as a rake. And blowing leaves onto the street is cheating [not to mention polluting the waterways].
Only twice as fast… is that really so valuable as to justify all of the other drawbacks? Another study used a grandmother [sorry] with a rake against a bunch of pros with leaf blowers, and they weren’t even twice as fast (go grandma!).
“The problem is we humans don’t seem to know when to stop and this tension between creation and utter crap is best summed up by the principle “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”*
Personally I think there’s something romantic about the swish of a broom or the scratch of a rake. It’s earthy. It’s not rushed. It’s connected with the ground. It doesn’t scare kids away. It says to passersby that I’m up for a chat if they are.
Leaf blowers just say !#@* off.
I might be out on my own with this, but I hope not. I hope there’s a latent mass of the community who are fed up with noisy leaf blowers. I hope there are others who are willing to help me celebrate the champion of the yard (rake) and hero of the street (broom). These captains of peace and quiet. These pinnacles of thousands of years of R&D.
I don’t have a leaf blower. I use a rake and a broom, I can sweep like Mr Miyagi, and I’m still a man. If we’re going to build sustainable communities we have to get the basics right first.
So there’s my verdict – rake wins. I bet there are already leaf blower owners voicing objections and demanding a re-count… but I can’t hear you.
* The opening and closing quotes are from a hilarious blog post [Leaf Blowers and the Fall of Man] I came across whilst searching for reliable life-cycle-analysis evidence around this argument – may be slightly offensive to the sensitive ; >