In our community, we take great pride in our homes and want our lawns, trees, and plants to look beautiful. But we shouldn’t have to pretty up our yards at the expense of the environment.
That’s why the Village of Pelham Sustainability Advisory Board and Climate Smart Communities Task Force are backing a campaign called “Pelham Healthy Yards” to promote sustainable gardening practices that contribute to cleaner air and water and less noise pollution.
“Pelham Healthy Yards” encourages residents, businesses, and municipalities, along with their landscapers, to take simple steps that will make a big difference:
Mow high and water less
Go electric (or human-powered) for removing leaves
Go chemical free
Use organic fertilizers
Mulch grass and leaves
Choose sustainable and native plants
Cover and amend the soil naturally
Protect the tree canopy
Reduce the lawn size
Keep it dark
Village residents who take the “Healthy Yard Pledge” will receive a “Pelham Healthy Yards” medallion yard sign.
As summer yields to fall, we cherish autumnal traditions: foliage gazing, the smell of fallen leaves, Halloween, and Thanksgiving gatherings. One thing many of us don’t relish is the sound and smell of another fall staple–leaf blowers.
Gas-powered leaf blowers, a topic of increasingly-heated debate, are with us year-round. Their noxious fumes hang stubbornly in the air and their piercing wails come at us (at-home workers, kids, retirees, and sidewalk strollers) from all angles. We silently resent our neighbors’ leaf blowers for waking us up, and we reconsider having cocktails with our friends on the patio.
The negative health impacts of gas blowers are well-documented, particularly for children and seniors, and for the workers who have little choice but to strap on these machines, withstand their (literally) deafening noise and inhale their fumes (1 hour of leaf blower exhaust pollutes as much as a 1,100 mile car trip).
Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.
NASHVILLE — Into these perfect October afternoons, when light gleams on the red dogwood berries and the blue arrowwood berries and the purple beautyberries; on the last of the many-colored zinnias and the last of the yellow marigolds and the last of the white snakeroot flowers; on the shining hair of babies in strollers and the shining ponytails of young mothers and the tender, shining heads of old men walking dogs — into the midst of all this beauty, the kind of beauty that makes despair seem like only a figment of the midnight imagination, the monsters arrive.
They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry.
Nearly everything about how Americans “care” for their lawns is deadly. Pesticides prevent wildflower seeds from germinating and poison the insects that feed songbirds and other wildlife. Lawn mower blades, set too low, chop into bits the snakes and turtles and baby rabbits that can’t get away in time. Mulch, piled too deep, smothers ground-nesting bees, and often the very plants that mulch is supposed to protect, as well.
This particular environmental catastrophe is not news. A 2011 study by Edmunds found that a two-stroke gasoline-powered leaf blower spewed out more pollution than a 6,200-pound Ford F-150 SVT Raptor pickup truck. Jason Kavanagh, the engineering editor at Edmunds at the time, noted that “hydrocarbon emissions from a half-hour of yard work with the two-stroke leaf blower are about the same as a 3,900-mile drive from Texas to Alaska in a Raptor.”
The two-stroke engine found in most consumer gas-powered leaf blowers is an outmoded technology. Unlike larger, heavier engines, a two-stroke engine combines oil and gas in a single chamber, which gives the machine more power while remaining light enough to carry. That design also means that it is very loud, and that as much as a third of the fuel is spewed into the air as unburned aerosol.
How loud? “Some produce more than 100 decibels of low-frequency, wall-penetrating sound — or as much noise as a plane taking off — at levels that can cause tinnitus and hearing loss with long exposure,” Monica Cardoza wrote for Audubon Magazine this year.
In his Oct. 2 newsletter, the writer James Fallows summarized the emissions problem this way: “Using a two-stroke engine is like heating your house with an open pit fire in the living room — and chopping down your trees to keep it going, and trying to whoosh away the fetid black smoke before your children are poisoned by it.”
As Mr. Fallows’s last point suggests, what’s bad for the environment is bad for humans, too — most menacingly, of course, for the employees of landscape services, who are exposed to these dangers all day long.
The risks come not only from the noise and the chemical emissions that two-stroke engines produce, but also from the dust they stir up. “That dust can contain pollen, mold, animal feces, heavy metals and chemicals from herbicides and pesticides,” notes Sara Peach of Yale Climate Connections. All this adds up to increased risk of lung cancer, asthma, cardiovascular disease, premature birth and other life-threatening conditions.
Only the Environmental Protection Agency can set emission standards. But California, owing to its unique climate and geography, which allow airborne pollutants to coalesce and linger, is the exception to this federal limitation. Other states can opt to follow California’s more stringent tailpipe emissions standards, as 12 states and the District of Columbia do. Thanks in part to those standards, the passenger vehicles on California’s roads and highways collectively produce less pollution than off-road machinery does. Think about that for a minute: Lawn-care equipment creates more pollution in California than cars do.
But the trouble with leaf blowers isn’t only their pollution-spewing health consequences. It’s also the damage they do to biodiversity. Fallen leaves provide protection for overwintering insects and the egg sacs of others. Leaf blowers, whether electric or gasoline-powered, dislodge the leaf litter that is so essential to insect life — the insect life that in turn is so essential to birds and other wildlife.
The ideal fertilizer and mulch can’t be found in your local garden center. They are available at no cost in the form of a tree’s own leaves. The best thing to do with fallen leaves is to mulch them with a lawn mower if your lawn consists of entirely of unvariegated turf grass (which it should not, given that turf grass requires immense amounts of water and poison to maintain). Our yard is a mixture of grasses and clovers and wildflowers, so we can safely let our leaves lie. If a high wind carries them away, it’s hard not to wail, “Wait! I was saving those!”
And the leaves that fall across every inch of this wild half acre of suburbia are so much prettier than any unnaturally green lawn beaten into submission by stench-spewing machinery. All those golden sugar maple leaves hold onto the light, and for weeks it looks as though our whole yard is on fire, even in the rain. Who could be troubled by a blanket made of light? A blanket keeping all the little creatures safe from the cold?
Former PMHS student Sam Farrell has created a fun, safe and profitable way to help the environment with his new company, the Regrowth Project (RGP).
Growing up in Pelham, Farrell noticed that communities in Westchester lacked access to an adequate composting system. As he brainstormed solutions, he recognized that relying on donations as a non-profit organization would be ineffective. After graduating from Penn State amidst the Covid-19 pandemic in late spring of 2020, Farrell finally had the time to take initiative on his dream and the idea for RGP was brought to life as a new company.
Farrell’s work began by simply going out to local spots like Shore Road and Orchard Beach with some of his friends every day to collect waste and fill plastic bags. In order to track his progress, Farrell posts daily videos on RGP’s Instagram page of the outings and participants. As of Jan. 18, they successfully filled and removed 587 large bags of trash from locations across Westchester and lower Connecticut.
As the project has continued to grow, more people hoping to help keep the environment clean have reached out to Farrell, who recently joined the board of the Environmental Coalition of the Pelhams (EcoPel).
“I go out every day, so I’m always interested in working with anyone who wants to help the cause,” he said.
RGP primarily profits by selling high density polyethylene, or HDPE, products. The polymer is found in most bottle caps and other common recyclable materials, and it can be melted down and reused to produce a variety of products. Along with HDPE, Farrell sells hats and T-shirts featuring RGP’s unique branding.
Gavin Kleinberger, a current student at PMHS, recently worked with Farrell on the Regrowth Project. He learned about RGP through his older brothers, who had contributed to the project several times, and decided he wanted to pitch in and remove waste from his town.
Reflecting on his experience with Farrell, Kleinberger said, “The amount of garbage at Orchard Beach was disgusting, and it seemed like the pickups were needed. Working with Sam was fun, too, he made it interesting and enjoyable.”
In October 2020, Farrell broadened the horizons of the company with the release of his first episode of “The Regrowth Podcast.” Almost every week, a different guest will join Farrell to discuss various aspects of the environment, ranging from birds and plants to diseases and more. The podcast, which streams on Spotify and Apple Podcasts, shows Farrell’s company in a whole new light.
Farrell’s long-term goal for the Regrowth Project is to find a way to put all the trash it collects to good use. He hopes to grow the brand to other regions, but his main objective is simply to help keep the environment clean.
About the Writer
Alex Esteverena is a sophomore at Pelham Memorial High School. He plays basketball and baseball with the school and club teams. In his free time he listens to music and hangs out with his friends. He speaks Spanish at home and is very excited to write for the Pelham Examiner.
The Environmental Coalition of the Pelhams (EcoPel) is proud to announce a major grant to the Village of Pelham (VoP) to help start a much-needed community food scrap recycling program.
The grant of $3,900 was approved by EcoPel’s Board of Directors on Oct. 7, 2020 and will be allocated from funds raised by EcoPel thanks to the generous support of the Pelham community. The money will go towards establishing a food scrap recycling drop-off site, including the purchase of large collection toters, a one-year’s supply of compostable liners, signage, and publicity outreach.
The VoP will obtain and distribute at cost household starter kits consisting of a countertop pail to collect food scraps, a roll of compostable liners, and a larger storage/transport bin. The goal is to have the participation of 20% of households in the first 12 months, based on the experience of other municipalities.
“If we’re really going to do our part to address climate change, we have to separate food waste from our garbage stream,” said VoP Mayor Chance Mullen. “This is a key priority championed by the Sustainability Advisory Board (SAB), and I am so grateful to EcoPel for committing these resources. Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to make this possible.”
The Waste Subcommittee of the SAB and the VoP’s Climate Smart Community Task Force (CSCTF) have been working to bring food scrap recycling to Pelham for the past year. They received guidance from Michelle Sterling and Ron Schulhof, who launched food scrap recycling in Scarsdale in 2017 and have been instrumental in helping to set up more than 20 programs throughout Westchester since then.
The SAB and CSCTF reached out to EcoPel for funds after VoP Mayor Mullen and the Board of Trustees approved the program in September but were unable to move forward due to budgetary constraints.
The VoP Public Works Department will maintain the food scraps drop-off site near the DPW yard behind the Village Hall on Sparks Avenue. The VoP will also contract with the county through the newly created Westchester Food Scrap Transportation and Disposal Program to insure proper pick-up and transfer of the food waste to a composting facility. The idea is to start community food scrap recycling early this winter.
Food scrap recycling will be available initially to VoP residents only. In the meantime, EcoPel, members of the CSCTF, and community supporters hope successful implementation of the program will lead it to grow and spread in our town, either in partnership with the VoP or independently.
The benefits of community food scrap recycling are abundantly clear. Food scraps are one of the largest components of trash sent to landfills and incinerators. However, they are not trash. They are a natural resource that can be turned into nutrient-rich compost to mix with the soil, promoting plant growth, preventing erosion, and reducing water, fertilizer, and pesticide use.
Unlike backyard composters which primarily handle fruit and vegetable waste, coffee grinds, and eggshells, community food scrap recycling also accepts such items as meat and poultry bones, seafood shells, leftover or spoiled food, paper towels, wooden chopsticks, cut flowers, and much more.
To learn more about food scrap recycling or the new VoP program, feel free to contact:
The Environmental Coalition of the Pelhams (EcoPel), established in 2013, is a grassroots, not-for-profit (501c3) membership organization that aims to educate the community about sustainable green practices that protect our environment, as well as provide resources and mobilize the community to aid environmental initiatives and policies on a local and global level.
Among the events EcoPel has organized or supported are the Solarize Pelham initiative, free screenings of environmental movies at The Picture House, Pelham town-wide cleanups, the Manor Club Sustainability Series, the Vegan Cookoff, and Summer Solstice Yoga.
On May 6, EcoPel and the Village of Pelham Sustainability Advisory Board Climate Task Force co-sponsored a talk on “Preserving the Tree Canopy,” featuring Pelhamites Fiona Watt and Rich Heller.
Fiona is senior advisor of horticulture and forestry the the NYC Parks Department. Rich Heller is a certified professional coach and member of the Village of Pelham Sustainability Advisory Board Climate Task Force.
On Monday, February 3, Ron Kamen of EarthKind Energy spoke on the topic, “Electric Vehicles: How to Save $$$ and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.”
The program was the first of four “Sustainability Series” meetings co-sponsored by the Environmental Coalition of the Pelhams (EcoPel) and the Village of Pelham Climate Smart Communities Task Force on climate and sustainability issues at The Manor Club in Pelham Manor.
More than 50 diners got to taste the deliciousness of homemade plant-based meals during EcoPel’s first vegan cooking contest on November 9. Organized by Marin Zielinksi, the event took place at the home of Romina and Jerry Levy in Pelham Manor.
The contest had three judges: State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, Pelham Mayor Chance Mullen, and Clay Bushong of The Picture House and the Pelham Chamber of Commerce.
And the winners were…
-Mariette Castillo Morrissey and Karen Gardner for their “crab”-stuffed mushrooms appetizer
-Liz Massie for her side dish of glazed carrots with tahini
-Dale Walkonen for her kale/quinoa stir main dish
-Sheri Silver for her vanilla confetti cupcakes
Pelham Memorial High School student Nadine Whalen made the beautiful cutting-board winner plaques.
As one guest remarked, “The food was so good and abundant. I didn’t expect to be so surprised at how good it was.”
EcoPel hopes events like this will prompt more people to consume plant-based food, which is healthy and beneficial to our planet.
Photos by Greg Shunick
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The Environmental Coalition of the Pelhams is a not-for-profit (501c3) organization. Make a tax-deductible donation today!