Gas-powered leaf blowers to be phased out next year


Gardener Tomás Saucedo poses with his truck and gas-powered leafblower in South Pasadena. Photo by Saul Gonzalez

How common is this scene? You’re home and relishing a little peace and quiet, maybe finishing a project for work or starting that new mystery novel, when suddenly the tranquility is broken by the blast of a leaf blower. The machine’s distinctive start-up rumble and its teeth-grinding whine when it’s running at full blast have long been part of the soundtrack of Southern California life. 

But there’s a big change coming to the world of California landscaping and gardening on January 1, 2024. That’s when the state will ban the sale of new gardening equipment powered by small gas engines.

And even before that happens, a growing number of cities are prohibiting the use of all gas-powered leaf blowers, old and new, backed up by fines of up to $500.

What do Southern California’s commercial gardeners and landscape workers think about all these changes? They are not thrilled.

As he works to clean a front yard in Glendale, Alejandro, who doesn’t want his last name used because he’s undocumented, says his gas-powered leaf blower is essential to doing his work and supporting his family.

When I inform Alejandro about the coming ban on the sale of new gas-powered leaf blowers in the state, he doesn’t like it one bit. He says electric models will mean longer work days as he looks for places to charge batteries while out on the job. 

A gardener in Pasadena wears a gas-powered leafblower on his back.The state of CA estimates there are 14 million pieces of gas-powered gardening equipment. Photo by Saul Gonzalez.

Those views are echoed by Gilbert Frausto, who criss-crosses the LA area with his landscaping crew.

Frausto thinks gardeners and their equipment are being demonized by people who want their neighborhoods kept clean and tidy at a low cost, which, Frausto says, the gas-powered machines accomplish.

Frausto says bans on leaf blowers and other gas equipment are unnecessary and worries about the costs to commercial gardeners of transitioning to electric equipment.

“They're like $500 for gas blower, [but] right now, if you buy a blower with the two batteries, it costs you close to $1,500 to $2,000,” says Frausto.

He also points out that gardeners are saddled with the expense of buying extra batteries at upwards of $300 to make it through their work day, since the batteries don’t last all day and most landscapers have nowhere to charge while they work.

To help commercial gardeners with the costs of transitioning to zero-emission gardening equipment, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, Southern California’s air pollution conrol agency, has launched a voucher-based exchange program with participating retailers. Gardeners who qualify could see the cost of buying new zero-emission equipment reduced by up to 85%. The old, gas-powered equipment they turn in will be destroyed. 

The city of Pasadena threatens fines for operating gas-powered leaf blowers. Many previous bans have gone ignored. Photo by Saul Gonzalez.

Noise pollution is often the central issue in the debate over using gas-powered gardening equipment instead of quieter alternatives, like battery-powered machines.

At a South Pasadena dog park, resident Fred Strype says he loathes the gardening equipment racket.  

“It is a nightmare,” says Strype. “There's never a time where there isn't a gas blower going somewhere front, back, left, right. It’s awful.” 

Municipal officials hear the complaints about gardening equipment “oh my God, all the time,” says former Mayor of South Pasadena Michael Cacciotti.   

Cacciotti, who’s also vice-chair of the board of the South Coast AQMD, says complaints about gardening equipment reached a deafening pitch over the past three years “because of COVID and people working from home and remote locations,” he says. “It increased exponentially.”

Beyond noise pollution, there are air pollution concerns. According to state environmental regulators, gas-powered gardening equipment pumps upwards of 140 tons of pollutants into the air daily.

And a single gas leaf blower can generate the same amount of pollution in one hour as a car being driven over 1000 miles.

As for gardeners’ general skepticism of zero-emission gear, Michael Cacciotti of the AQMD’s board likens it to getting the public to accept alternatives to gas-powered cars in recent years. 

But ultimately Cacciotti says gardeners who’ve made the change from gas to electric machines have been won over by the health benefits of working with quieter and cleaner equipment.

“When they first started, they were reluctant,” says Cacciotti. “But after several weeks or months, they all said, ‘Oh my God, I don't go home smelling like gas with my family. And my ears aren't ringing every day.’ And you're also, when you retire from your 30 or 40 years of backbreaking work and having a gas-powered engine on your back eight hours a day, that you're not going to get cancer, asthma, other type of respiratory illnesses that will kill you. You can actually enjoy your retirement.”

But a lot of gardeners, particularly assistants and those on the lowest rungs of the workforce, say they don’t have a choice over what kind of equipment they use. 

In an LA neighborhood, gardener Esteban, who also declines to use his last name, says he’s aware of health concerns around gas equipment but he still uses a gas-powered weed wacker and leaf blower anyway because it’s what the boss wants. 

Like the transition to zero-emission cars and trucks, proponents of moving to all-electric gardening equipment acknowledge it will take a long time to do, meaning the distinctive and annoying rumble of the gas-powered leaf blower won’t end anytime soon.