How to - The Healthy Gardener

Combatting noise pollution

The landscape trade is uneasy as city councils attempt to deal with excessive noise issues

The B.C. Landscape and Nursery Association opposed the ban, arguing that without the benefit of leaf blowers, landscape cleanup would be more time-consuming, less effective and, for people using a landscape service, more expensive. The association's lobbying efforts were successful: in January 2003, council voted to drop the ban. However, Vancouver council also introduced new rules for the use of leaf blowers: only machines that meet the low-noise standard of 65 decibels may be used within the city and, even then, only between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. According to senior environmental health officer Bill McIntyre, “Initially, there was opposition from the landscape trade [to the outright ban], but the new bylaw is working because everyone-manufacturers, the community, landscape associations-had input. There's been a smooth transition because everyone felt part of the process.” But Hans Schmid, president of the Right to Quiet Society, is less positive: “In most cases, decibel-based bylaws don't have good enforcement because you can't get inspectors out to measure the noise when it occurs.”

Like Vancouver, Toronto toyed with the idea of a leaf-blower ban, as recommended by its Board of Health. But in the end, council voted against it, instead bringing in a new noise bylaw in early 2003 that restricts the use of noisy garden equipment in residential areas to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday and statutory holidays. According to Mark Dimuantes, policy and research officer with the Municipal Licensing and Standards Division of Toronto's Urban Development Services, “The bylaw is complaints-driven, and we depend on the individual complainant to keep a log of when the noise is happening. If it becomes a nuisance, an on-going complaint, then we'll send an inspector out.” However, because there is no decibel restriction specific to gardening equipment in the Toronto bylaw, there's not much you can do if a neighbour's leaf blower wakes you up like clockwork every Sunday at 9:01 a.m. (Indeed, a typical alarm clock's 65- to 80-decibel level is below the 88.6- to 106-decibel level for leaf blowers cited by Toronto's medical officer of health.)

Tony DiGiovanni, executive director of Landscape Ontario, an organization that opposes leaf-blower bans and had lobbied against one in Toronto, says that the most important thing is for people to take responsibility for their leaf-blower usage—“There are many ways to use these machines sensitively and respectfully”—and for manufacturers to take responsibility by continuing to reduce the level of noise (and emissions) from their products: “Who wants a noisy machine? The industry doesn't; they just use them because they work well.” DiGiovanni points out that those who use a landscape service have the power to reduce noise themselves, without recourse to a bylaw: “Just say to your landscaper, ‘Don't make noise.'”

Sheldon Ridout, a certified horticultural technician who started a Vancouver landscaping company called The Silent Gardener four years ago, agrees wholeheartedly. He and his three workers don't use any power equipment at all; instead, they rely on push mowers (“I don't find them to be any more work than a power mower,” Ridout says), lawn sweepers and “that archaic thing called a broom.” Ridout started his company after working in the landscape industry and “coming home smelling like fuel every day, always being in a cloud of dust and being surrounded by noise”—in other words, to get away from what he calls “combat gardening, which is everything that gardening shouldn't be. It's not peaceful, it's not relaxing.” The biggest compliment his clients pay him is when they say, “It's so quiet, I didn't even know you were here.”

ALSO Check out: The Silent Gardener, 5589 Keith St., Burnaby, BC V5J 3C4; 604/324-3628.

DECIBELCOMPARISONS
Vacuum cleaner
60-85
Motorboats 85-115
Electric drill 95
Motorcycles 95-120
Ambulance siren 120
Jet taking off 150

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