“Plogging” is a new trend that combines jogging with picking up litter. So it can benefit both your health and the environment. Although this new form of exercise was invented in Sweden, today plogging groups around the world are turning a simple garbage bag into their most important sports accessory – aside from their running shoes.
Empty to-go cups, discarded bottles and plastic wrappers... whether you’re jogging through the woods or down a city street, litter along your path often detracts from your enjoyment of being out the fresh air. It can even rob you of your motivation to run. Annoyed by the garbage on the streets of his hometown, Erik Ahlström of Stockholm, Sweden took matters into his own hands – and invented plogging. The word is a portmanteau of “jogging” and “plocka upp,” the Swedish equivalent of “pick up.” Because the whole point of plogging is pausing briefly along your route to bend down and pick up any litter you spot.
“Sweden is getting dirtier and dirtier. Every day sees 2.7 million cigarette butts alone being dropped on the streets – and we only have a population of 10 million,” says Ahlström talking with VisionZeroWorld. And that’s not to mention coffee cups and countless other items of refuse. After living in a small town in northern Sweden for twenty years before returning to Stockholm, Ahlström couldn’t help but notice how dirty his hometown had become. “There was trash on my street and no city services bothered to come and clean up. So I starting picking up the litter myself,” says Ahlström. And since he is a committed jogger who runs on the streets of Stockholm several times a week anyway, he started carrying a trash bag whenever he went out for exercise. And very soon he discovered that collecting trash has a positive side-effect – bending down all the time turned out to be good for building leg and core strength. “After a week or two I felt even fitter,” he says. Plogging was born.
Jogging while picking up trash became a trend that spread like wildfire in Sweden, and soon went viral internationally as well thanks to social media. Today most cities have plogging clubs that meet regularly to run and clean up the streets. “Plogging is a kind of interval training that’s good for your whole body,” says Alexander Volk of the Plogging Cologne group. “It's all about connecting the dots between health and environment.” And the jogging trash collectors are also hoping to raise awareness among their fellow citizens so that more people stop to pick up any litter they see lying around – and so that less lands on the streets in the first place. “We know that we can’t save the world through plogging, and that we’re just starting again every day from square one,” says Anita Horn, one of the founders of Plogging Cologne. “But we can at least call people’s attention to the problem and make our jogging route a bit cleaner for a while.”
Joggers carrying garbage bags and picking up litter do attract attention. And they get their share of funny looks from passers-by. Some are skeptical, some spontaneously lend a hand. “We’ve had all kinds of experiences. Of course we know that we often catch people’s eyes. But that’s part of what we are trying to do,” says Horn. “You should always reflect on what you consume and above all how you consume it. Do you really need a disposable cup for your morning coffee, or could you bring a reusable to-go cup from home? Do you have to take a new plastic bag every time you buy groceries, or would a cloth bag work?”
Plogging Cologne was one of the first and is one of the largest groups of its kind in Germany. The ploggers numbered around 20 when they first started running through the city’s streets clutching their colorful bags, but today the group has more than 400 members. And there is almost nothing that the ploggers have not found along their routes. From pizza boxes and beverage cans to license plates, office chairs, and fire extinguishers, nothing surprises them anymore. “Some ploggers are truly pro-level – they push their finds in a shopping cart as they run or carry a bag in each hand. So they get an arm workout at the same time,” says Volk with a grin.
Yoga instructor Annalena van Beek, a member of another plogging group in the former West German capital city of Bonn, takes a different approach. To motivate people to collect litter, she offers her customers a free yoga session after a round of plogging. Her motto is ‘first collect, then relax’. “I wanted to make picking up litter more attractive. Our rivers and seas are filling up with trash,” says van Beek. With this in mind, she and her fellow runners like to jog along the banks of the Rhine and pick up litter to stop it landing in the river in the first place.
Today plogging has spread across the globe, with groups in Australia, India, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Russia, and the United States. Everywhere you turn, joggers are picking up trash. Nothing could be easier, after all – lace up your shoes, grab your bag, and hit the road. Inventor Ahlström recommends that people who are interested in plogging use social media to find a group near them, or even set up their own group. “The bigger the group, the more fun plogging is and the larger the area you can keep free of litter,” says Ahlström. He notes that the body burns more calories through plogging than normal jogging. In a half-hour of picking up trash you burn 288 calories on average, while regular jogging is only good for 235. Even if you end up jogging a shorter distance and maybe only cover five or six kilometers, it is still “pretty strenuous exercise,” he says.
But not all exercise experts are quite as euphoric about plogging. Sport scientist Ingo Froböse of the German Sport University in Cologne believes that the frequent stopping and bending down to pick up litter can be a problem. “When I go running, I want to run – without interruption.” So he suggests an additional interval training session so the exercise benefits aren’t lost. Plogging inventor Ahlström disagrees, and underscores the activity’s positive environmental impact. “Plogging is definitely the most beneficial way to supplement regular jogging. Each person can make a difference, everywhere and all the time. It’s also about having the right mindset to drive change and help the next generation.” He’s proud of his invention and reckons that plogging will continue to spread. Only recently he travelled to Ecuador to help set up a plogging club there. “It all began in Sweden, where we were trying to change our lives, our habits, and our surroundings,” Ahlström says. “Now other runners around the world are sharing the same goal.” So you could say plogging is now off the ground and picking up speed!