Ever been on a run through the woods and notice litter mottling the otherwise natural scenery? Maybe it’s plastic six-pack ring, an empty Coke bottle or a few scattered cigarette butts. Whatever it is, it’s a bummer on a few levels. Not only is it aesthetically unpleasing, it’s a reminder of how careless and inconsiderate people can be. Then there’s the bigger picture problem: the deadly effects of trash on the ecosystem, as well as on innocent wildlife. The solution to the waste epidemic requires multipronged efforts, but we can all help — even on our routine jogs by “plogging”.
Plogging is simply picking up trash while jogging, and started in Scandinavia (the word is a portmanteau of ‘plocka upp’, which means ‘pick up’ in Swedish and ‘jogging’). The fitness trend has been rising in popularity in the states, and earlier this year, the health app Lifesum launched a feature enabling users to log and track their ‘plogging’, an effort supported by the Keep America Beautiful, a nonprofit focused on litter prevention.
Plogging is a way to connect with nature, while helping to restore it
The fad has attracted the interest of nature lovers who are duly concerned about the earth’s wellbeing, including Ashlee Piper, author of “Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet.”
“I heard about it a little over a year ago. Fellow eco-minded influencers that I follow, especially in Scandinavia, seemed to be making a sport out of their usual walks/hikes/runs and picking up trash along the way,” Piper says, adding that she’s never experienced such an effective fusion of exercise and environmental action.
“People often hike and surf as a means of both getting in shape and reconnecting with nature, which are admirable forms of appreciating the planet — but I've not seen anything quite as official feeling as plogging.”
Plogging on the beach
Colin Cooley, co-founder of Wicked+, a creative and communications agency formed the plogging group Wicked+ Run Club as a way to bring together a group of local runners on a weekly basis and do some good.
They tend to hit the beach, where the litter problem can be especially hard to ignore.
“I’ve had a core group of running friends from different parts of L.A for the past eight-plus years and this was a way to meet some runners from right here in the South Bay,” Cooley tells NBC News BETTER. ‘The plogging idea stemmed from my solo beach runs. My office is right off the beach and I’ll often end the workday with a beach run right before sunset. I see so much trash along the way and spend half my time running and the other half picking up trash and sprinting to the nearest trash can. I thought, ‘Why not make more of a regular event out of this and get our Wicked+ Run Club crew to come out here with me once a week and clean up our local beach community while we get in a good sand run?’”
It may feel small, but ploggers are tackling a big problem
Picking up some stray pieces of trash here and there may seem like it’s not enough to make an impact, but these small efforts can add up to tackle a massive problem.
“Much of the litter we see is stuff we don't even think of as litter when we first get our hands on it. Balloons, for instance, while beautiful and celebratory, come back down to earth as litter that doesn't biodegrade. Other litter is simply improperly recycled recyclables that never made their way to the facility. In urban settings, the most common litter seems to be food and beverage packaging, especially plastic bags, coffee cups, straws and plastic beverage bottles, cigarette butts (which are really just non-biodegrabale trash),” Piper says.
“Our consumption habits got us into this literal mess,” she adds. “Small changes to those habits can help improve the situation.”
Being in nature can help our health. This adds an extra punch.
Dr. Darria Long Gillespie, aka Dr. Darria, an ER doctor, the author of “Mom Hacks” and a runner, recommends plogging if only because of the proven benefits of being in nature.
“Research has confirmed what we learned as kids — that going outside in nature just makes you feel good,” Dr. Gillespie says. “In Japan, they call this ‘forest bathing’. Time in nature improves heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol and even our immune functioning. Other studies have shown that even being able to see nature from your hospital room can be associated with faster healing times. So, any time you can do exercise outside, not only does it overall make you feel better, it can even make the exercise feel easier.”
The scientific case for plogging ties to our origins as hunter-gatherers
One particularly fascinating argument for plogging is that such an activity is in our nature, as civilized humans who evolved from hunter-gatherers.
“From a medical standpoint, plogging (or how about ‘plalking’, which would be walking and picking up litter) naturally emulates human body mechanics,” says Dr. Barbara Bergin, an orthopedic surgeon. “Our prehistoric ancestors walked long distances, and from time to time, would bend over to pick up fruit and nuts and bugs from the ground to eat.”
Bending over stretches the back, buttocks, hamstrings and calves. Plogging is multitasking in its best form.
Dr. Bergin also notes the stretching benefits that the plogging may provide.
“Bending over stretches the back, buttocks, hamstrings and calves. Plogging is multitasking in its best form. It’s a great idea, and I'm going to start suggesting it to my patients,” she says.
You don’t have to be a runner to do this. But you do need some cheap supplies.
“Plalking,” aka, walking and picking up litter as Dr. Bergin suggests, is an excellent option if jogging isn’t for you. I have an old knee injury that makes jogging tough for me, so personally, I’ll be doing this gentler form.
In either case, definitely invest in a few cheap supplies to take on your journey.
“If anyone wishes to go plogging [or plalking], take a strong plastic bag (such as a kitchen garbage bag, not a permeable plastic bag such as a grocery store bag which can drip on you) and disposable gloves,” advises Dr. Gillespie. “You don’t know what you’ll be touching, and you don’t want to transfer those germs onto your own non-disposable gloves or clothing.”