March 15, 2010
Toronto Environmental Office officials left the confines of the city to meet at Landscape Ontario’s home office in Milton. The meeting in early February provided an opportunity for LO members to express their opinions about the city’s proposal to reduce emissions from outdoor power equipment.

Mike Mulqueen, a senior environmental planner with the city, said his office was looking for feedback to help create a report that Toronto City Council will receive in April 2010. That report will outline a framework to address emissions from outdoor power equipment, including new program and regulatory options.

It was revealed that the process began in 2001, when the city focused on leaf blowers. “We recognize that equipment from 2001 is much different than the equipment on the market today,” said Mulqueen. Although nothing came from the process begun in 2001, the city official pointed out that Toronto looked into its own landscape operations. “We modernized our equipment and changed practices, resulting in a reduction in fuel costs.”

At one point in the meeting it became obvious that the city wanted to focus on the issue of leaf blowers. “Why not regulate leaf blowers?” asked Mulqueen. The set of prepared questions by the city senior planner included a number of questions specifically concerning leaf blowers. “Is a leaf blower really necessary? Would it be so bad to ban them all?”

“I have been involved with the issue of leaf blowers for many years,” said LO executive director Tony DiGiovanni. “If reduction of emissions is the target, then why are we talking about snow blowers and the issue of noise?” He went on to say that training and a certification program would answer the problem of emissions. “We need to develop a program of environmental practices.” DiGiovanni recommended forming a partnership that would possibly include the City of Toronto, Ontario Parks Association, Building Owners and Managers Association and Landscape Ontario.

A number of audience members stated that the leaf blower issue is about politics and noise, not smog. “There is no way a company will purchase a leaf blower if it will not produce a financial benefit,” said DiGiovanni. The LO executive again recommended to the city officials that instruction and certification will provide real results.

Representatives from manufacturers Stihl and Echo were at the meeting. Both explained that emission and sound levels have been greatly reduced and meet all requirements.

Scott Bryk, environmental director at Sunshine Grounds Care, said that the city should determine the level of emissions for general equipment. “There needs to be a goal. Education, accreditation and cost analysis are all required to create a reduction in emissions.”

The issue of electrical-powered equipment was touched on at the meeting, with the lawn care professionals explaining the present system is unworkable. “An electric charge will last up to 85 minutes and then it must be re-charged. So number one, out in the field, we would require a gas-powered generator to re-charge the mower, and wait while it’s charging, or have two mowers. Neither option is financially sensible,” said John O’Leary of Clintar.
“Be a partner with the industry, in order that we all may achieve real goals,” concluded DiGiovanni. “Make the solution be a workable one that both the public and industry see real benefits.” Mulqueen said he likes the concept of industry and the city creating an accreditation program.