British Columbia

B.C. municipality votes to phase out gas-powered gardening tools

The District of Oak Bay has voted to phase out leaf blowers and other gas-powered gardening equipment by 2026.

Oak Bay residents have 3 years to replace leaf blowers and other equipment

A landscaper fires up a gas-powered leaf blower while working north of Victoria, B.C. in November 2019. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

Residents of Oak Bay, B.C., will soon have to turn off their gas-powered leaf blowers for good.

Councillors in the southern Vancouver Island community voted Tuesday to phase out the residential use of all gas-powered gardening tools over the next three years. The motion is set to take effect in 2023, meaning residents have until the end of 2025 to replace old tools with newer technology, such as electric alternatives.

The motion was put forward by Coun. Tara Ney and mentions concerns about carbon emissions and noise. Ney said the three-year window provides time for prices of electric tools to drop in price.

"The technology is going to advance and costs will come down," said Ney, speaking to council Wednesday.

In 2021, council voted to phase out by 2025 municipal workers' use of carbon-producing gardening equipment. This week's decision also comes in the wake of a 2021 petition launched by Oak Bay resident Francis Landy calling for a ban on residents' use of gas-powered leaf blowers.

 As of Wednesday morning, that petition had 670 signatures.

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

Mayor Kevin Murdoch says getting the word out now gives Oak Bay residents time to prepare.

"Once people know about it, when they go to the store and their lawnmower is acting up or they need a new weed whacker, they'll be like 'well, gee, I really should be looking for an electric option at this point,'" said Murdoch. "It'll be an organic shift over the next three years."

Cost of doing business

Michael Cowan, co-founder of Edibella Organic Landscapes in neighbouring Victoria, has been in the landscaping business for 23 years. He says in the last five years, manufacturers have launched electric lawnmowers and leaf blowers that are comparable to gas ones for commercial use.

Cowan, speaking on CBC's All Points West on Wednesday, said he has transitioned to electric leaf blowers and weed whackers but it wasn't cheap — and electric lawnmowers, in particular, are pricey.

He said there are issues with electric tools such as how long a charge will last and the need to continuously replace batteries, but they are quieter and better for the environment and he supports Oak Bay's decision.

He says he would appreciate it if the provincial government offered financial help for businesses transitioning from gas to electric tools, but he's not optimistic it will happen.

However, there is already a silver lining to having a lineup of electric tools, says Cowan — the current staggering prices at the gas pump.

"I definitely do like not buying gasoline right now," said Cowan.

Noise, pollution concerns

Oak Bay residents can currently operate a gas-powered leaf blower between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays and between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays, according to district bylaws.

"Noise is a very seriously underestimated health problem," said Landy,  speaking Wednesday on BC Today. 

The petition creator said he was "overwhelmed" to see council pass the motion, which he said could help people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or tinnitus.

According to WorkSafeBC, noise levels greater than 85 decibels averaged over eight hours can damage hearing and lawnmowers and leaf blowers can both pose these risks.

According to the California Air Resources Board, a public agency set up to fight air pollution, using a gas-powered leaf blower for one hour emits as much smog-forming pollution as a modern sedan driving 1,770 kilometres.

Oak Bay is not alone in its push to phase out gas-powered garden tools.

A noise bylaw in 2004 prohibited the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in the West End area of Vancouver, making it the first neighbourhood in Canada to ban the devices.

In July 2021, a Research Co. survey of 800 British Columbians showed 34 per cent, roughly one-third, were in favour of a municipal ban on gas-powered lawnmowers, while more than 44 per cent were opposed. But support for prohibiting gas-powered leaf blowers was highest on Vancouver Island, where 48 per cent of people asked were behind the idea.

Half of the people who participated in the poll said they worry about noise pollution associated with the use of landscaping equipment "a great deal" or "a fair amount," while 40 per cent feel the same way about air pollution.

Murdoch said he thinks neighbouring jurisdictions will follow suit and also begin banning gas-powered garden equipment now that Oak Bay has made its decision.

The mayor also said district staff will be preparing a report for council with details about how to enforce the ban when it comes into effect.

Murdoch said municipalities do not have the authority to regulate environmental issues — only the provincial government does — and staff will be working with the province to figure out how to structure Oak Bay bylaws to make it happen.

With files from Kathryn Marlowe and Liz McArthur