The Friday morning rain has dispersed, and a crowd of two dozen has gathered outside of New Leaf Community Market on Fair Avenue for the battle of the century: leaf blower vs. broom.
Ken Foster of Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping is pitting his environmentally friendly, manually operated stick broom against activist Brent Adams’ two-stroke gas and oil leaf blower. The rules are simple: each contender had to clean up a trash can’s worth of leaves and debris spread over 75 feet of sidewalk. The grades were passed by four judges on four criteria: air pollution, noise pollution, time and efficiency.
The real issue at hand, Foster says, is to highlight the unnecessary emissions produced by gas-powered blowers.
“This is a critical issue for urban areas,” Foster says. “We think we can destroy the soundscape in this vain search for the perfect landscape.”
Leaf blower pollution goes beyond just noise. A 2011 study by automotive information site edmunds.com found a consumer-grade, two-stroke blower produces 23 times more carbon dioxide and almost 300 times more non-methane hydrocarbons than a 2011 Ford Raptor truck.
Foster, a founding member of the Leaf Blower Task Force (LBTF), formed in 2013, quickly pointed out that even if landscapers don’t want to ditch the blower, many of today’s models can be electric and produce significantly fewer emissions than their antiquated equivalents. The LBTF plans to take the results of the broom vs. blower competition, along with a survey of more than 500 Santa Cruz residents, to the Santa Cruz City Council early next year in hopes of moving forward with progressive legislation on the issue.
Foster says the task force isn’t necessarily calling for a ban: “We’re saying intelligent use, education, and restrictions are a good way to go,” he says.
According to a 2000 report by the California Air Resources Board, 20 California cities have banned the blower.
So what were the final results of the first-ever Santa Cruz Broom vs. Blower Challenge?
The broom beat the blower in all categories except time, where Adams pulled into the lead by 24 seconds, although Foster put on a great show. Even if your average landscaper doesn’t work as vigorously as Foster—one cheering spectator exclaimed it looked like he was doing “garden CrossFit”—the landscaping guru believes alternative options to the blower are worth exploring.
“My associates in the industry will say, ‘See? Leaf blowers are faster,’” Foster says. “But that’s one factor of a handful of issues.”