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Evanston City Council members’ approval of a new leaf-blower ordinance has started the clock running for the eventual phasing out of gas-powered leaf blowers. 

At their Monday, November 8 meeting, Council members approved the leaf blower ordinance as part of their consent agenda, which allows them to approve a batch of agenda items without discussion. 

Held over from earlier this year, with council members seeking more feedback from community members, the groundbreaking ordinance amends the time and days when leaf blowers may be used, sets a new fine structure, establishes penalties and calls for a transition from the use of gas-powered leaf blowers to electric blowers effective April 1, 2023.

A number of environmental groups pushed for the elimination of the gas-powered leaf blowers, citing concerns such as noise levels and the effect on the environment and wildlife habitats. 

A speaker at one of the meetings, Nina Kraus, a professor at Northwestern University and a biologist whose research includes the effect of sound on the brain, told Council members that excessive and unwanted sound, such as produced by leaf-blowers, “has biological effects,” and can create “health issues that affect our cardiovascular health or physical health … our cognitive abilities – you know, how we think.” 

Workers use leaf blowers on a grassy area in Evanston. (Photo by Bob Seidenberg)

Members of the City’s Environment Board brought the proposed changes to the Council last year, in line with the City’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan. The Environment Board’s proposal recommended officials “phase out the use of gas- and propane-powered leaf blowers and construction equipment” and “provide a timeline by which they need to be replaced with electric or battery-powered options.” 

Phasing out gas-powered leaf blowers “isn’t just about noise,” said Kyle Campbell, a Third Ward resident, in an email response to the Council’s vote. 

“That the city moved leaf blower regulations from ‘Nuisance’ to ‘Health and Safety’ regulations reflects this,” he said.  

“Air pollution kills 10 million people yearly – twice as many as COVID did – and there is no vaccine against air pollution,” Campbell said. “Protecting and improving our air quality affects us all. Banning gas leaf blowers is a simple, effective step, and increasingly common step.” 

Investment in enforcement, equipment needed 

In support of the action, Cara Pratt, the city’s new Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator, said in a memo to council members that “these changes will reduce the impact of leaf-blower use throughout Evanston and will create stronger opportunities for enforcement.” 

She noted that a Leaf Blower Working Group, formed as an outgrowth of the Environment Board’s work on the issue, has identified the need to budget for enforcement personnel and allocated resources toward purchasing new landscaping equipment to comply with the ordinance. 

“The Leaf Blower Working Group also recommends continued sustainable landscaping education and communication with Evanston residents, regional landscaping contractors, and local businesses that sell leaf blowers,” she said. 

During the hearings, representatives of some of the city’s landscaping firms spoke of the greater effectiveness of gas-powered blowers on large-scale jobs as well as the time-consuming impracticality of relying on the electric-powered blowers favored by some environmentalists for big jobs. 

Firm’s recommended changes not part of ordinance  

Paul Klitzkie, general manager of Nature’s Perspective Landscaping, a company that has been in Evanston for 42 years, expressed disappointment November 11 that some suggestions his firm had made as part of the transition were not incorporated into the ordinance. 

Klitzkie had worked with Dr. Clark Elliott, a Second Ward resident who has been a strong advocate of the move to electric-powered blowers. 

One of the proposals called for no exemptions for the city of Evanston, the school districts, the golf courses, or for properties leased from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.  

The ordinance approved by the City Council November 8 exempts these areas from the gas-powered leaf-blower ban: city baseball fields and artificial turf fields; the in-play areas of golf courses; and construction projects involving paving, repair or patching of public streets. 

School district property was not mentioned in the ordinance draft included in the Council’s October 25 packet. 

While lawn maintenance companies and others are being asked to come into compliance, “it’s unfortunate” the city is not leading the way, Klitzkie said, noting the purchase of electric-powered blowers is not included in the city budget. 

Another proposal called for a detailed calendar for the mandated changes with specific dates so that businesses – “with customer and equipment-supply contracts to consider,” the proposal said – “can plan, and resentment caused by uncertainty is lowered.” 

Nature’s Perspective has invested significantly in electric-powered leaf blowers, Klitzkie said, and the company is committed to an environmentally responsible future in Evanston. 

Electric-powered blowers are quiet and can do the job under normal circumstances, he said. But there still is the issue of keeping the battery charged over a full day’s service.

Gas-powered blowers remain more effective on certain wet days dispersing heavy leaf piles, Klitzkie said. “Technology is catching up, it’s getting there,” he said, expressing hope that Nature’s Perspective will be a pioneer in the move to the technology. 

Some features of the new ordinance: 

  • Before April 1, 2023, gasoline-powered or propane-powered leaf blowers may be used but only from March 30 to May 15; and October 15 to the first Thursday in December. There are no seasonal restrictions, however, on the use of electric-powered leaf blowers.
  • The hours any leaf blowers may be used are limited to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
  • Leaf blower use is eliminated altogether on all city-recognized holidays.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. A good ordinance but exempting city is a joke. How can our representatives agree to this and then face their constituents? We are better than this.

  2. I agree that the City should lead the way. Not doing so seems rather half hearted.
    Also wonder what the plan is to enforce this ordinance? Think the existing one has rarely been enforced.

  3. I was also disappointed when I saw that Klitzkie’s recommendations regarding the City’s taking the lead on gas blowers, were not incorporated. Really appreciate Nature’s Perspective taking the lead.

  4. The phase out of gas powered leaf blowers is a pretty good first step and I applaud the City of Evanston for joining other municipalities in leading the way on more sustainable landscape management practices.

    However, the problem with leaf-blowers is not just their noise. And they are only part of the larger problem. All gas-and-propane-powered two-stroke engines are enormous carbon emitters. Far and away worse than, say, a pickup truck: one gas powered leaf blower, used for one hour, emits as much pollution as a pickup driving from TX to Alaska. Extrapolate that out to gas-powered lawn mowers, and you begin to grasp the true extent of the problem.

    The real problem with landscape management is that it utterly fails to be a sustainable practice in almost every respect. Turfgrass requires mowing, chemicals, and a ridiculous amount of water while supporting no beneficial insect populations. Removal of leaf litter from underneath our trees and shrubs every spring using hot air at hurricane-strength velocity destroys insect habitat and soil health. This is not “spring clean-up,” as landscape companies like to call it, but rather “spring-destruction.” And I cannot for the life of me understand the need to blow post-mowing debris around all summer long under the guise of tidying up. In the fall, most leaves can find a happy home in garden beds and under the shrubbery. They can be raked or blown gently into those areas, or they can be mowed and composted with grass clippings in a simple pile in the corner of a yard. My yard maintenance folks are happy to dump the contents of the mower bag into my compost, instead of hauling it away. And in the spring, they’ll happily spread that stuff around in my beds if I ask for their help.

    This leaf blowing ordinance is a good start, and I’m thrilled that the City of Evanston is taking this important step in meeting our long-term sustainability goals, but there is much more we can, and must, do. First, we’ll know the City is serious when it produces a workable plan for enforcing these measures. Second, two-stroke gas powered lawn mowing equipment: we’re coming for you. Homeowners: you pay landscape companies to “clean up” your yards; pay them to create bigger shrubbery and low-maintenance native-plant beds and cut down the amount of turfgrass you have to pay to maintain. Press them to switch to electric equipment. Homeowners who maintain your own yards: make the switch when you can to electric equipment and consider cutting down on the amount of turf grass on your property.

    Evanston is such a great community. I know we can pull together and create a healthier environment for all.

    1. Excellent comment! I would like to adapt your statements to present to my city council in Walnut Creek,CA. Enough is enough; there was life before leaf blowers.

  5. It’s not clear to me when the hour restrictions take effect. It’s before 8 AM on a Friday morning, and leaf blowers are already operating in my neighborhood. Also, it would be nice to have a City contact for complaints (poor person). Finally, I agree with Paul Klitzke that the City should lead the way.