|Backgrounder: Moore Park Neighbourhood Campaign to Ban Leafblowers|
In the spring of 2007, Joannah Lawson and Lorraine Tinsley, residents of Moore Park, launched a campaign to voluntarily ban leafblowers and other highly polluting 2-stroke lawn mowers and weed trimmers from Moore Park. Countless studies, statistics and medical reports had confirmed that such equipment was not only loud, irritating and obnoxious (driving countless municipalities throughout North America to regulate their use), but was extremely polluting for its size – spewing toxic emissions like butadiene and formaldehyde, for which there are no safe limits of exposure, from the incomplete combustion of gas and oil. We also learned, from no less an authority than Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer, that inhaling the carcinogenic emissions and particulates emitted by these handheld gas engines endangers human health – particularly worker health.
We contacted lawn care operators and distributed flyers throughout Moore Park alerting everyone to the public health and environmental risks of gas-powered equipment (especially leafblowers) and encouraging the switch to low-impact and non-polluting equipment and lawn care practices. With the support of Moore Park Moms and the Moore Park Residents Association, we kept up the pressure on the City to regulate leaf blowers and won a small victory in the City’s 2007 public forum on climate change, Change is in the Air, by persuading the City, with Councillor Paula Fletcher’s backing, to phase out 2-stroke engines and replace them with cleaner 4-stroke engines that meet the highest current EPA emissions standards. The City also sponsored a program, called Cut it out, Toronto!, working with the Clean Air Foundation and Home Depot to provide discounts for the trade-in of old polluting lawn equipment on Community Environment Days. As for regulation, the City pledged only to consider small handheld gas equipment in its Change is in the Air framework and revisit the need for regulation at a later date.
That date came in the fall of 2009 with a round of public and industry consultations, the result of which was the decision to develop a training and certification program in low-impact landscaping and park maintenance practices for municipal and private operators. While it was disappointing not to have won on the regulatory front, this market-driven solution was our best alternative. It will create an incentive for private companies to obtain certification – and a competitive edge – in providing low-impact lawn care and landscaping services, thereby changing practices for the better across the board. This, however, will take time to realize.
Early last year Joannah and I were invited (as the only two citizen representatives) to sit on a newly-created Toronto Environment Office steering committee to drive the new certification scheme for low-impact landscaping. We have just completed the training module and are now moving into the implementation phase. The training and certification will be delivered by Landscape Ontario in partnership with the City and the Ontario Parks Association, and this will provide a model for municipalities across Ontario, and the country. We expect to start offering training by the spring of 2012, if not by the fall of this year.
The remaining challenges will be twofold: to ensure that the countless small, untrained lawn-care operators wreaking havoc in residential neighbourhoods get properly trained and certified, and that the public learn how to distinguish certified operators from non-certified, and begin making responsible choices when hiring these contractors. We will still have some work to do ensuring the City runs a good public awareness campaign on this program and moves program awareness forward through Councillors’ offices and social media. We want to see all residents’ associations and gardening clubs engaged as well.
On the industry front, the EPA has continued phasing in stricter emissions standards for small, off-road hand-held gas equipment, and newer models of leafblowers (i.e., manufactured after 2007) are considerably cleaner-burning and quieter than older models, although by no means emission-free. At the same time, we have begun to see new, green lawn care and landscaping firms on the scene, who take their environmental and social responsibility seriously and provide an alternative to the harmful and irresponsible lawn care practices we still see throughout our neighbourhoods.
We hope to compile a directory of green and clean certified lawn care and landscaping services once the certification program is up and running. In the meantime, here is a preliminary list of companies who already provide low-emission or zero-emission landscaping and lawn care services:
Green Gardeners: 416-858-7637, www.greengardeners.ca
Landcare: 416-410-0320, www.landcare.ca
Sustainable Lawn Co: 416-797-2552, www.sustainablelawn.ca
This Code of Conduct for Operators of Gas-Powered Lawn Equipment is also provided for public use.