SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors addressed residents’ concerns Tuesday over possible proposals to ban gasoline-powered lawn equipment and adopt a pay-as-you-throw trash collection program.

City officials also clarified for the first time that a proposed ban wouldn’t apply to municipal or commercial operators.

Mayor Kate Lewis said she supports the city’s climate action plan, but she said the economy has grown challenging for many people since the plan was adopted in 2020.

“I think people are struggling and I am not interested in adding some of these programs,” Lewis said. “I’m very concerned that we’re turning into a wealthy environmental Disney.”

Councilor Linda Cohen said she’s heard from residents who have purchased electric lawn mowers, but they don’t want to force others to do the same.

“I think we can implement the things that won’t cost taxpayers a lot of money,” Cohen said.


The council agreed to hold future workshops on the gas equipment ban and a pay-as-you-throw program, both of which drew opposition and support from residents at the meeting.

Bud Munson questioned the logic, logistics and cost of both the equipment ban and the trash bag program. “You guys really need to think about the taxpayers,” he said.

Jeff Steinbrink spoke in favor of the city’s climate action efforts, saying “this is one of those times when we decide together who we want to be” and “figure out how to be closer to the cutting edge than the tail end.”

Kyle Gravel of Evergreen Yard Care told councilors it would cost “six figures” to replace his gas-powered mowers and leaf blowers.

“We need to consider the impact and cost to small businesses,” Gravel said.

City officials said that the ban wouldn’t apply to commercial or municipal operations because technology wasn’t advanced enough and it would be too costly.


It also would be a transitional ban, phased in over several years, so residents could prepare to buy electric push mowers, leaf blowers and string trimmers, they said. And in April, the city plans to establish an electric tool library so residents can borrow the equipment.

Councilors discussed the gas equipment ban and pay-as-you-throw program as part of a progress report on the city’s climate action plan. The workshop was rescheduled from March 14, when it was canceled because of storm-related power outages.

If the council directs staff to move forward with drafting a ban on gas mowers and blowers, South Portland could be the first municipality in Maine to require battery-powered lawn equipment.

The city’s sustainability staff initially scheduled Tuesday’s workshop to discuss the gas equipment ban and trash proposals. Instead, Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach gave a “refresher” on the city’s One Climate Future plan and related council resolutions passed in 2018 and 2019 because the council has several new members.

The resolutions call for transitioning municipal operations to 100% clean energy by 2040; reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% citywide by 2050; and “rapidly phasing out” the use of fossil fuels and technologies that rely on them.

“We’re well on our way,” Rosenbach told the council, noting that the city is on track to complete 56 of 67 strategies by 2025 to meet its climate goals, including electric grid modernization and buying electric city buses.


One Climate Future is a joint plan with neighboring Portland that outlines steps to reduce the region’s carbon footprint. The city has made strides to increase sustainability in recent years, including a ban on foam food containers, an expanded municipal solar array and a recent requirement that new or rebuilt parking lots include spaces and infrastructure for vehicle charging stations.

Rosenbach said a blower/mower ban is “in progress.” One Climate Future doesn’t mention such a ban, but it does call for powering “almost everything” with electricity, including cars, buses, ferries and building heating systems.

California has banned the sale of new gas-powered mowers and leaf blowers starting in 2024, under a zero-emissions law that would impact weed trimmers, chainsaws and other similar equipment. In recent weeks, legislators in Rhode Island and Minnesota have introduced similar proposals that drew opposition from manufacturers, dealers and landscapers.

Mowers and blowers have been identified as significant sources of air pollution in recent decades. Gas-powered lawn and garden equipment produced 26.7 million tons of air pollution in 2011, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A decade before that, a Swedish study concluded that operating a lawn mower for one hour produced as much air pollution as a 100-mile car trip.

Addressing commercial-grade lawn equipment specifically, more recent studies have shown that one hour of mowing produces as much pollution as a 300-mile light-duty car trip and one hour of leaf blowing is comparable to a 1,100-mile car trip, according to the California Air Resources Board.

Waste reduction strategies outlined in One Climate Future include adopting a pay-as-you-throw trash collection program similar to one in Portland, where residents buy trash bags that effectively set a unit price for residential solid waste and promote recycling, including through food waste collection programs.

A proposal for South Portland’s pay-as-you-throw program is “in progress” and should be implemented by 2026, Rosenbach said.

Adopted in 1999, Portland’s pay-as-you-throw program “has had a measurable impact on reducing municipal solid waste production from residential homes,” the climate plan states. To leave trash for weekly curbside pickup, Portland residents must use purple trash bags sold at area stores that cost $1.75 per 15-gallon bag or $3.50 per 30-gallon bag.

A study of Maine communities that send trash to the ecomaine incinerator in Portland found that cities and towns without pay-as-you-throw programs generated nearly twice as much trash per capita, the climate plan states. In 2017, Portland generated 268 pounds of residential trash per capita, while South Portland generated 491 pounds.

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