For anyone living in a deciduous forested suburb, leaf blowers are a godsend for whomever has fall yard cleanup duty (family members or lawn care service employees). But 2-stroke, gas powered leaf blowers’ convenience must be weighed against its true costs. The apparent costs are the price paid for the power tool at the local hardware store. But that sticker prices (apparent costs) disguise the true total cost of the devices manufacture and use. Transparent costs (hidden from the consumer in the form of artificially low sticker prices) are the cost of pollution these devices admit. These transparent costs are externalities.
Which raises an interesting question: How much pollution does a leaf blower emit?
The short answer is more than a car, a truck or any other modern passenger vehicle.
But because vehicles outnumber the nation’s 12 million leaf blowers by about 224 million, they still beat out the dirtier engines in total emissions.
“These small engines are notoriously high polluters. But because there are fewer of them compared to cars and trucks, they don’t emit as much total pollution,” said John Volckens, a professor of mechanical engineering at Colorado State University.
The California Environmental Protection Agency estimated that operating a commercial leaf blower for one hour would emit more pollution than driving a 2016 Toyota Camry for about 1,100 miles.
Overall, EPA figures show that the small nonroad spark-ignition engines contribute 1% of nitrogen oxides to total U.S. emissions, compared with 16% contributed by passenger cars; 2% of volatile organic compounds, compared with 3%; 15% of carbon monoxide, compared with 29%; and 1% of particulate matter, the same amount as passenger cars. The data, which is the latest available, are from 2014.
The pollutants contribute to a variety of health problems and cause smog, acid rain and other environmental hazards.