Green Ribbon Committee to Staff: Draft New Gas-Powered Lawn Equipment Ordinance

 

At the April 14, 2021 Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee meeting,* Committee members listened to two presentations on gas-powered lawn equipment. Dr. Wu of the UCI Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and Dan Mabe of American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA) gave the presentations. The presentations focused on the health risks caused by the air and noise pollution created by gas-powered lawn equipment. In addition, environmental justice and greenhouse gas emissions concerns were part of the presentations.

After a discussion of the information included in the presentations, the Green Ribbon Committee instructed staff to draft a new ordinance on gas-powered lawn equipment use in Irvine. Once the Green Ribbon Committee finalizes the wording of the ordinance, it would go to the city council for approval.

The Green Ribbon Committee instructed Irvine staff to include the following in the draft ordinance:

  • a cost/benefit analysis on switching from gas-powered to electric lawn equipment for the City and landscapers (Dr. Wu and Dr. Allison pointed out the importance of including the long-term costs as well as the immediate costs in a cost/benefit analysis. The long-term costs would be the health-related costs that individuals or organizations would pay. The immediate costs are those that landscape companies and the individuals or organizations that employ these landscape companies might pay.)
  • a phased approach for banning gas-powered lawn equipment, with more leeway given to small landscaping businesses
  • an adoption of native landscaping for City property (A goal of the City’s adoption of native landscaping would be to serve as a demonstration for residents and businesses. This demonstration would show the cost advantage and aesthetically pleasing look that native landscaping can provide.)

Why is Gas-Powered Lawn Equipment a Problem?

UCI’s Dr. Wu and AGZA’s Dan Mabe presentations explained why gas-powered lawn equipment presents so many health problems, who is most at risk, and how to resolve the problem.

The 2-Stroke Engine Design

Unlike cars, which have 4-stroke engines, gas-powered lawn equipment has a 2-stroke engine. This 2-stroke design is inefficient at burning fuel and lubricant oil. It is also more prone to fuel and oil leakage.

In fact, improvements in car design have reduced car emissions. However, this level of emissions reduction is not possible with two-stroke engines used in lawn equipment. As shown by the following California Air Resources Board chart, using a gas-powered lawn mower for one hour creates the same amount of emissions as driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. In addition, the chart shows that using a gas-powered leaf blower creates the the same amount of emissions as driving from Los Angeles to Denver.
Also, the following California Air Resources Board graph shows that gas-powered lawn equipment is becoming a heavier contributor to pollution than cars.

SORE=Small Off-Road Engines, spark-ignition engines rated at or below 19 kilowatts, such as gas-lawn equipment as well as other outdoor power equipment and specialty vehicles

The Pollution that Gas-Powered Lawn Equipment Creates and the Health Problems that Result

Some of the pollutants that gas-powered lawn equipment creates are fine particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, greenhouse gases, and dust. In addition, toxic waste from gas-powered lawn equipment can end up in landfills as well as our air, water, and land.

This pollution can cause premature death, cancer, lung disease, respiratory illness including asthma, adverse birth outcomes, dementia, and more.

Dr. Wu provided a few examples of how the output of gas-powered lawn equipment can lead to health problems and even premature death:

  • Fine particles can get into blood and then circular throughout the body. These particles can get into the lungs and brain, which can cause damage.
  • Hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide are precursors to ozone. Ozone is a main contributor of photovoltaic smog, which contributes to health problems.
  • Dust stirred up by the equipment can result in the dust particles getting into the lungs and, thereby, cause respiratory illness.

Who Suffers?

Everyone’s health is negatively affected by the pollution of gas-powered lawn equipment; however, some are more susceptible than others. These include children, the elderly, landscape maintenance workers, people with respiratory illnesses such as asthma, the physically active, and anyone with a chronic illness who would therefore be particularly vulnerable to fine particulate matter, dust, and toxic emissions.

In addition, 2-stroke engines produce high intensity, low frequency sounds that can have a bigger negative impact on residents than the sound coming from electric lawn equipment. These negative health impacts include irritation, sleep disturbance, cognition problems, hypertension, and ischemic heart conditions. Also to consider: With more people working from home now, gas-powered lawn equipment creates even more of a problem for the public.

The Solution

The solution is to phase out gas-powered lawn equipment. This can be done by switching to electric-powered lawn equipment or old-fashioned people-powered lawn maintenance.

Also,  replacing high-maintenance landscaping with native landscaping would significantly reduce the need for time-consuming and costly landscape care. Boardmember Forthal gave the example of her yard, which she converted to a native landscaped yard. She has reduced her water use as well as only needs a gardener a few times a year now. In addition, she finds it more attractive than the previous lawn landscaping.

Costs

Electric lawn equipment has an up to 40% higher upfront cost. However, electric lawn equipment operating costs are about $0.18 to $0.26/hour vs about $1.50/hour for gas-powered equipment. Therefore, buying electric equipment provides a return on investment. In addition, South Coast AQMD has rebate programs for electric equipment purchases that would reduce upfront costs; however, these rebates are often used up quickly.

Batteries

Mabe explained that, as landscapers need to replace gas in gas-powered equipment, they will likewise need to recharge batteries in electric equipment.  Some possible solutions discussed for landscapers who will need to recharge batteries before the end of their workday were as follows:

  • distributed charging stations throughout the City (similar to the way EV stations are distributed for car battery charging)
  • homeowners providing charged batteries for the landscaper to use on the homeowners’ property
  • locations where landscapers can exchange the uncharged battery for a charged battery (Boardmember Von Blasingame and AGZA’s Mabe shared their observation of this practice in China.).

Mabe also gave another example. This was the current practice of a landscaping company attaching solar panels to the top of their equipment van. This allows the maintenance workers to recharge batteries as needed throughout their workday.

Note: The next Irvine Green Ribbon Environmental Committee meeting is June 9, 2021 at 4:30 pm. The agenda and viewing information for this meeting can be found on the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee Agenda & Meeting page. An update on the status of draft for the gas-powered lawn equipment ordinance is not on this upcoming agenda. However, it should appear on a Green Ribbon Committee meeting agenda in the not-too-distant future.

*April 14, 2021 Irvine Green Ribbon Committee meeting video: the gas-powered lawn equipment presentations and discussions are at about 58:00 to 2:31:00