When it comes to living lives centered around sustainability and eco-awareness in the modern world, it’s pretty clear that we’re all playing second fiddle to the Scandinavians, especially the Swedes.
Environmental stewardship is inherent to Swedish life. That's partly a result of Allemansrätt, or the Right of Public Access, which grants all citizens the right to access and explore all wilderness areas, even private land (unless stated otherwise) and creates a strong incentive for Swedes to keep their natural areas clean. Sweden also routinely ranks as one of the top sustainable countries in the world.
It's no surprise then that Sweden has come up with a way to clean up its parks and wilderness while getting some decent cardio in, too.
Plogging, or in its original Swedish, plogga—a mash-up of the Swedish words plocka upp (pick up) and jogga (jog)—is the practice of picking up trash and litter while jogging. It's equal parts sport and hobby, can be done anywhere from hiking trails to sidewalks, and it encourages people to help keep their communities and local wilderness areas clean. All while promoting healthy living and aerobic activity.
Plogging was coined by trail runner and Salomon community manager Erik Ahlström around 2016. After living for 20 years in a small skiing community in the north of Sweden, Ahlström was stunned at the amount of trash he found on the streets when he returned to Stockholm. So while out jogging, he got into the habit of picking up trash. He founded a website called Plogga to organize plogging events and, eventually, his idea started to spread around Sweden and to other European countries.
Since then the plogging movement has snowballed into a worldwide phenomenon dispersed through social media and community groups and events. Merriam-Webster is even eyeing it for inclusion in the dictionary. In the US, Keep America Beautiful has been promoting plogging through its TrashDash events in cities around the country. Many cities, including Field Mag’s two editorial hubs in New York City and Portland, Oregon, have plogging clubs, groups, and events. Plogging has also found a strong foothold in India, where plastic pollution is dire.
In addition to being good for the environment, plogging is a heck of a workout, too. Bending over, squatting, twisting, and stretching to grab litter while on the go supplements the typical cardiovascular benefits of jogging with varied motions that engage different muscles, making for a more well-rounded workout. If you're really after a sweat, you can get an arm workout in once you pick up enough trash to make your bags heavy. Ahlström has even theorized that plogging contributes to runner’s high.
Anyone can plog whenever and wherever they want. It doesn’t take an organized event, all it takes is you, a jogger, grabbing a trash bag and some gloves as you head out the door and engaging in some good old fashioned community service.
Interested in plogging? It's easy, but here are six tips to help you hit the (trash-free) ground running.
6 Tips for Getting Started With Plogging
Plog where you jog
Whether you’re a trail runner or an urban jogger, plogging can be done in any environment. Just keep your eyes peeled for bits of trash along your route. Plogging’s early days have strong ties to ultra running, trail running, and marathon training (Ahlström is a trail runner and has been instrumental in helping trail running become more popular in Sweden). City parks are fair game though too.
Bring a bag
Bringing along a plastic or reusable bag is one of the most important parts of plogging, especially if you’re running in an area where there aren’t garbage bins for you to discard trash as you go. No one wants to be running with dirty trash in their hands or jammed into their pockets. Ahlström says that sometimes he doesn’t even set out with a bag, but instead uses one he finds early on in his route. (It's a sad reality how predictable it is that you'll find a plastic bag as litter, but hey, that’s why we’re out here plogging.)
Wear reusable gloves
While picking up litter is a great way to take care of the environment, it’s also important to remember your own health and safety. Stray garbage can be full of potential hazards, like broken glass, chemicals, or bacteria. To prevent cuts and infections, remember to bring along and wear a pair of thick, sturdy gloves.
You don’t have to pick up trash the entire time you’re running
Just because you’re plogging doesn’t mean you have to compromise your workout. You might set a goal of only stopping or pausing to pick up litter during your warm-up and cool-down periods. Don’t feel bad for not plogging the entire time. As Ahlström told Salomon in a blog post, “...the goal is to trigger the reflex of picking up litter when we see it.” The more you're aware of trash in your immediate surroundings, the more likely you are to take the two seconds to pick it up.
Don't worry about cleaning up an entire area
Plogging is about taking an inclusive, community-oriented view at the issue of littering and waste. But you don’t have to pick up every single piece of trash you see (it’s not going to be much of a workout that way). Don’t let guilt stand in your way of also getting what you want out of your plogging experience.
You don’t need to be a runner to plog
Even though plogging gets its name from jogging, the principal purpose of it is cleaning up the outdoors. That can be done whether you’re a runner or not. If you’re a cyclist, you can stop for a minute to pick up some trash along the road. Out SUPing or kayaking on a lake and see some trash floating in the water? Hook it with your paddle and put it in a bag to take back to shore.