Everyday Living May 23rd, 2018

What On Earth Is Plogging? And How It Can Save The Planet

The nerdiest Swedish export since ABBA has made it stateside.

It’s a bizarre sport called plogging, and we want you to join in.

“So, what the heck is plogging?” you ask.

Consider it circuit training for the eco-conscious, an unabashedly nerdy mixture of running and picking up trash. The word itself is a hybrid — combining plocka up (to “pick up” in Swedish), and you guessed it, jogging.

Swedish runners have been hitting the streets in packs to pick up litter for a couple of years now, and thanks to some social media evangelism (@plogga), Americans, too, are getting in on the fun.

Some ploggers go out gunning to win by collecting more trash than their cohorts over a given timeframe or distance, while others simply go for the camaraderie, cross training and good karma. You’d be surprised how many squats and lunges you can incorporate into picking up trash.

“Didn’t this so-called ‘sport’ already exist?” you ask.

Sure it did. It was called being a good person. And now it has a fun name. We all know movements need a fun name to catch on, and at the moment, our planet could use more like this.

You don’t need a like-minded running club to get started, however. Running is the original solo sport, so naturally, you can plog without an organized group. Just grab a trash bag and a pair of gloves, and head out the door. Mother Nature will thank you.

Honestly, she doesn’t even care if you run. You could pick up trash on a hike, on your walk to the bus stop, or while taking out the dog (you’re already holding a bag of poo, may as well pick up a few more gross things while you’re at it).

Lizzie Carr, a British environmental activist, even picks up trash from her stand-up paddleboard. Carr paddled the English Channel and 400 miles of inland waterways to raise public awareness and geotag hotspots for the cleanup (#plasticpatrol). In one seven-hour session, Carr collected over 1,000 plastic bottles.

She also took water samples during her voyage across the English Channel to help quantify the amount of microplastics, beads and eroded fragments about the size of a sesame seed that are in our oceans. Microplastics are enemy number one to aquatic wildlife because they come in appealing colors and often resemble an animal’s natural food source. It’s also nearly impossible to remove them once they’ve been incorporated into ocean ecosystems.

That’s where you come in, dear land mammal.

Eroded, or secondary microplastics as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calls them, were once larger pieces of plastic that could have been picked up by a human hand, possibly while running.

Heading them off before they enter the giant rock tumbler that is the ocean makes a lot more sense than trying to devise a massive filtration system that can differentiate between man-made particles and all of the good, albeit tiny, stuff at the bottom of the food chain that sustains all aquatic life.

“OK, I get it. Plastic in the ocean is bad. But won’t I look silly running around carrying handfuls of trash?” you ask.

Why yes, you will, but looking cool won’t be very important when our planet is dead. And since when were runners interested in looking cool anyway? Somewhere along the road to compression socks, hydration packs, soft panel hats and GPS watches, we missed the exit for cool. We runners, by our very nature, are a nerdy bunch and most of us wear the badge with honor.

“Our sport is your sport’s punishment,” boasted my high school cross country T-shirt. We were proud little masochists, and I bet most of you are too. Now add some roadside litter cleanup into the mix, and we’ve effectively combined two forms of punishment into one well-meaning and slightly self-righteous sport — all without a court order. Suffer on, comrades!

“I’m gonna pass on the suffer fest. I don’t even like running,” you say.

It depends on how you go about it, but in plogging there is really very little out and out running (the kind that divided us into categories of runners and people in trouble with high school gym teachers in the first place).

Your plogging practice could be focused on stretching, squatting and lunging in deliberate and thoughtful ways while bending over to pick up garbage and saving baby sea turtles. The speed with which you get to each piece of trash is really up to you.

In fact, a slower plogger may be able to spot insidious stuff like cigarette butts, straws and bottle caps more effectively than someone who is running fast. You knew your zen approach to running would save the world one day, didn’t you, self-described non-runner?

“But what if I like running fast, won’t this slow me down?” you ask.

Yes, yes it will. Doing things while also running is usually more involved than running alone. Don't worry; you won’t be asked to dribble, pass or catch any of the objects you collect. And if you drop one, you can pick it up again without any penalty or group shaming.

Alas, it’s true, plogging isn’t going to get you from point A to point B in the fastest manner possible. We recommend working it into a recovery run or gym day if you’re on a strict training program. Hey, even if you only pick up one piece of trash on a long run, it’s better than doing nothing at all.

Consider this your warning: Plogging is kind of a slippery slope. Once you start picking up garbage, it’s hard to pass a piece by without pangs of guilt.

I must admit, I went for a run at the beach before writing this article, and came home with two big handfuls of trash. I had no intention to plog when I left the house, but once you start looking, it’s impossible to unsee all of the garbage on your route. I didn’t have a court mandate or a cantankerous gym teacher prodding me on, just my instinct that if I didn’t collect what was on the beach today, it would make its way out to sea before the next self-satisfied do-gooder came along.

Who cares what you call it. Picking up trash while running is one of the dorkiest sports around. I’ve got a feeling we dorks are onto something though, and we’re recruiting — no running experience required.

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