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SPR Transitions to Battery-Powered Leaf Blowers

It is autumn, and that means leaf season. People in Seattle will soon be out in force with their rakes, blowers, and other tools to manage this annual event. Leaves will cover lawns, garden beds, streets, sidewalks, and roofs. With an estimated 500,000 trees in our parks system, Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) gears up every fall to keep our paths clear, our roads safe, and our parks healthy.  

Leaves can be a burden in some areas, such as along paved paths (safety concern) and near storm drains (blocks drainage) where they must be cleared. And they also offer excellent soil amendments to our turf, shrub beds, and natural areas. SPR sees leaves as an asset and keeps them in place where possible. 

SPR’s standard practice is to mulch mow leaves in our turf areas, providing excellent organic matter and nutrients that support the health of the grass. We also keep leaves in our shrub beds, which not only returns nutrients to these plants, but also provides a protective layer over the soil that can help absorb rainfall during the winter.  

In some areas of our parks, SPR must ensure that leaves are cleared. To do so we use a variety of tools, including walk-behind “low-blows,” sweeper trucks, vacuums, rakes, and blowers. To intent is to use the best tool for the job that maximizes efficient use of staff time and minimizes the impact on the public.  

For a few years, SPR has been piloting the use of battery-powered leaf blowers to find tools that can tackle the task of moving large quantities of heavy leaf litter while also minimizing the pollution – both noise and air – that come with gas-powered leaf blowers. Over this time, the technology of battery-powered blowers has improved significantly, and we are finally able to begin the transition to these tools.  

This year, SPR led a citywide effort to shift toward the use of battery-powered leaf blowers. Mayor Harrell signed an executive order directing departments to begin the transition and develop plans to achieve 100% battery-powered blowers by 2027. No new gas-powered blowers can be purchased by City departments. 

SPR first assessed our blower inventory, finding that we have a total of 251 leaf blowers, including 181 gas-powered and 70 battery-powered. We are on track to purchase additional battery-powered leaf blowers this year, bringing us to 30% of our total inventory, well on our way to a goal of 50% by 2025. We are also looking at how to transition other small equipment as well.  

Our plan moves beyond tools, though, to also include management practices. Our parks maintenance staff have explored the effectiveness of using different tools and practices in different situations, with the goal of limiting the use of blowers overall. We are also working with our planning team to ensure parks are designed in a way that ensures fallen leaves will be an asset, not a maintenance burden.  

By thoughtfully transitioning away from the use of gas-powered small equipment SPR is doing our part to reduce localized air pollution and carbon emissions, minimize noise, and still keep our parks safe and looking great.