A recent workshop in Northern NJ focused on the promise of  advanced electric battery technology to maintain landscapes cleanly and quietly. The workshop, hosted by the Township of Maplewood, Quiet Communities, and the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA) brought health, business, and community leaders to define problems related to gas-powered equipment and to learn about zero emissions, low noise tools being used increasingly by the nation’s communities and institutions.  Fifty-five municipal officials, government and business leaders, and residents attended.

  • Couldn’t attend but want to see the videos? Links are provided at the end of this article.

While the electric car industry is moving swiftly, the landscape maintenance business lags far behind.  Service providers rely primarily on a wide variety of gasoline-powered engines to do their work– mowers, leaf blowers, edgers, trimmers, and chain saws. This proliferation in gas-powered equipment coupled with dramatic growth of landscape service industry has resulted in gas fumes and loud persistent noise pervading residential communities, campuses and other public spaces. “Gas-powered tools are now used for all tasks once done manually,” says Dr. Jamie Banks, Executive Director of Quiet Communities. “This means lots of localized air pollution and noise that harm our health and environment.”

Scientific and medical experts are concerned.  The two-stroke engines that power most handheld landscape equipment are major sources of ozone-forming chemicals and fine particulates.  Dr. Lucille Weinstein, Environmental Health Committee Chair for the NY chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Dr. Leonard Bielory, an allergy and asthma specialist and member of the NJ Clean Air Council, elaborated on the dangers of ozone and fine particulates as causes of lung disease, heart disease, cancer, and premature death — especially for workers, children and the elderly.  According to Dr. Karen Jubanyik, Associate Professor at Yale University School of Medicine, the loud noise from the equipment, especially gas leaf blowers, poses additional threats ranging from hearing loss to heart problems.  According to the landscape industry association, some of the machines are 1000 times louder than the occupational safety limit.

The fact-based presentations made an impression. “Quiet Communities has created a solid foundation of facts with regard to the health and quality life impacts of gas leaf blowers and other gas powered landscape equipment. This workshop brought together all stakeholders needed to effect change,” stated Lisa DeRosa, Chair of the Chatham NJ Borough Board of Health.

Much like technological advancement in electric cars, electric lawn and garden technology is at the point where it is practical and cost-saving in many applications. “In spite of higher start-up costs, an electric lawn care company can be a viable long-term solution to a proven environmental need, with even greater projected growth as equipment manufacturers improve their products to meet demand,” says Steve Popp, owner of Rochester, NY-based Carbon Cutters and panel participant.  The situation is encouraging business developments in NJ as well.  Ken Bariahtaris, founder of New Verdant Outdoors, is one of the first to recognize the market opportunity. “We think the rising demand from NJ residents for cleaner, quieter landscaping services is converging with advances in lithium ion battery technology. We are excited to offer these services to residential clients in Spring 2018.”

Panelist Dan Mabe, President of AGZA, understands these issues first hand.  AGZA was instrumental in creating the nation’s first AGZA Green Zone city and golf course in South Pasadena, CA and with Quiet Communities, brought the first Green Zone to the Eastern United States in Southampton, NY. An AGZA Green Zone is a property certified in zero-emissions, low-noise maintenance using advanced electric battery powered devices and manual tools.

Public officials were grateful to the hosts for raising public awareness around the issue. “New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation, and many of our northern cities and suburbs are assaulted by a near constant barrage of noise and traffic,’” agreed NJ General Assemblymembers Mila Jasey and John McKeon.  Referring to Maplewood’s summer ban on gas leaf blowers, they said “Maplewood opted for a healthier, quieter and more sustainable electric alternative which also serves to reduce pollutants and encourage clean technology.”

Deputy Mayor of Maplewood, Nancy Adams, was similarly pleased. “The workshop was an important first step in getting other communities and the state to pay attention to this very important issue. The damage to our environment and our health from this fossil-fuel powered equipment is documented and real.  Pollution and noise don’t stop at town boundaries; we need to protect New Jersey residents regionally.”  With the workshop as a start, the future for NJ may very well be cleaner, quieter, and healthier.

Workshop Videos

 

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