BY: LAUREN D’SOUZA
Every morning, I am awoken not by my phone’s alarm, but by the loud, annoying, seemingly omnipresent din of leaf blowers. This summer, I’m living in Westwood, a section of Los Angeles adjacent to the beautiful UCLA campus, the Los Angeles National Cemetery, and an expansive public park and playground.
Although the well-manicured lawns and trees of Westwood receive much less water than they used to, they still produce leaves. These leaves inevitably creep onto sidewalks. Much to the chagrin of nearby residents, the city brings in high-powered, high-decibel leaf-blowers to get rid of the debris.
I’ve noticed that we take leaf-blowers for granted. That is, we assume that when there are stray leaves on the ground, these machines are the best and only solution. However, Professor Tanja Srebotnjak comments, “Leaf blowers are not very widespread in Germany, where simple raking is still the method of choice to get rid of leaves on the ground.”
She remarks, “Raking is better on all fronts: for the environment, for peace and quiet, and even for the gardener’s health.” Professor Srebotnjak is correct—according to the Washington Post, the two-stroke engines in gas-powered leaf-blowers emit carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide at levels comparable to or higher than large automobiles.  These blowers are heavy, too, with the common backpack models weighing around 20-22 pounds.  A Massachusetts nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing hearing loss found that any sound over 85 decibels can be harmful to hearing, and ranked leaf-blower noise levels at around 115 decibels,. 
Consumer Reports notes that some residential communities and even entire cities in California have banned the use of all leaf-blowers, regardless of size, power source, or noise level.
With all this controversy, wouldn’t it be much easier to just stick with the faithful, if perhaps old-fashioned, method of raking or sweeping leaves away?
The leaf-blower is just one example of a household appliance that uses a disproportionate amount of resources and causes a disproportionate amount of pollution while having a low-cost, environmentally friendly alternative.
Here are a few more, with their eco-friendly alternatives listed:
Electrically powered clothes dryers are notorious energy guzzling appliances. The Guardian writes, “An average drying-machine cycle uses just over 4kWh (kilowatt-hours) of energy and produces around 1.8kg CO2. If all households with a tumble dryer dried one load of washing outside each week, instead of by machine, they would save over a million tonnes of CO2 in a year.”  Avoiding dryers is simple—if you don’t have the space to hang a proper outdoor or indoor clothesline, foldable metal drying racks are a perfect alternative. The Hixon Center even has several metal drying racks available that Harvey Mudd students can borrow for free for a whole semester.
Although it’s hard to imagine the utility of this appliance right now in the middle of summer, space heaters are useful for the convenience and immediacy of plugging in and warming up. However, most convection space heaters use around 1500 watts of energy. Compare that to a microwave, which uses around 1100 watts! There are several alternatives for staying warm on a cold winter’s day: wearing more layers, using a hot water bottle, and even baking something in the oven.
Blow dryers, Flat Irons, Curling Irons
Thermal hair appliances use quite a bit of energy for an everyday item. Blow dryers in particular consume a lot of power—anywhere from 700 to 1500 watts. Although flat irons and curling irons use less energy, they’re still easily avoidable devices. Consider cutting down frequent use of these devices, which can damage your hair and consume unnecessary power!
Dishwashers use around 1800 watts of energy on average while running, and consume about 6 gallons of water per cycle.  These appliances are useful and efficient if you’re running a full load of dishes, but far less efficient if you only have a few dishes to wash. Make sure to use the “eco” setting on your dishwasher if possible. End the cycle during the heat/dry phase, and pull the racks open to air dry instead. We tend to underestimate how much water we use in hand-washing dishes, so be conscious of your water consumption while rinsing and soaking.
We tend to keep most of our devices plugged in and on standby or hibernation mode when we’re not using them. Even if they seem to be off, these electronics still draw a small amount of power called a “vampire load.” To eliminate this vampire load, make sure to turn your electronics off or unplug them from the outlet. Better yet, utilize power strips with on/off switches to easily control the flow of power—this can help save 5-15% of your electricity usage. The Hixon Center also has power strips with on/off switches available to use for a whole semester for free!
Keep in mind that as our energy system moves to a more distributed grid, the time at which you use your appliances matters more. Utilities charge different rates at peak, part-peak, and off-peak hours, particularly during the summer. Find out the hours of peak usage from your energy company and use timers and apps to control when you’re running your heavy-duty appliances. Shifting your energy usage to off-peak periods will have a huge impact on your electricity bill.
If you want to find out about how much electricity your other household appliances use and how much it costs you every year, check out the energy saver tool from the Department of Energy.
As always, when you’re buying new products and appliances, check the DOE’s EnergyStar® certification list to find an energy efficient option.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like our entry on disposable household items and their reusable alternatives.