“Plogging” is a word that’s bound to be flagged by autocorrect, and while the term may be unfamiliar to some, the concept is simple. Whether you’re hiking trails, running roadside, or paddleboarding down Arizona’s Salt River — which is how I discovered plogging — you’re probably going to find litter as wayward debris makes its way into nature.
Formed by combining the word jogging with the Swedish term plocka, which means “to pick,” plogging is the process of purposefully collecting garbage while exercising outdoors. Sarah Williams, the owner of Desert Paddleboards and the one who familiarized me with the concept, was in Sweden when she was inspired to bring the idea home. “Sweden was so clean, and I wanted to start a similar club in Mesa and Phoenix,” she relates.
Seeing a need in her community, Williams encouraged others to banish litter, especially during the summertime when an influx of travelers produces more waste. This timing also coincides with most of her outdoor excursions, so she saw a fit to combine waste cleanup with her guided tours. “We start on land plogging, and then we clean up the river as we paddle down,” she explains. You may not be on a paddleboard while plogging, although you certainly can be, but here’s how to intentionally incorporate tidying into your outdoor exercise routine.
Sometimes it’s easier to sit back and judge others instead of doing something about it, myself included. However, rather than getting upset over spotting litter (which you have every right to do), use that energy for good. “Instead of scoffing at the trash and complaining about what a mess the river is, people just pick it up,” Williams says of her faithful ploggers. She even incentivizes their cleanup by giving them a small reward for collecting litter. “People send Desert Paddleboards pictures of the trash they pick up, and I send them a Desert Ploggers sticker,” she adds.
You need little more than a trash bag to start plogging, but Williams suggests a few other items if you’re going to make it a regular habit. “You’ll want a trash grabber and bag to put trash in,” she says. For safety — especially where drink containers and cigarette butts are concerned — have a pair of gloves handy. Even if you don’t intend to go plogging, stick a bag in your backpack or bike basket in case an impromptu chance to pick up litter presents itself.
You’ll find larger, more abundant debris if you’re running a roadside trail. However, if you venture into the woods on a hike, you’ll find smaller pieces of trash, such as gum wrappers or the occasional loose paper. Therefore, Williams advises making it into an expedition of sorts. “When you decide you’re heading out to make a difference, it becomes a treasure hunt and a workout,” she encourages.
Are you bending to pick up a stray straw? Perform a couple of lunges while you’re down there. Not only will you get a bit of extra exercise, but it can become a game if you make it enjoyable. “Plogging is more than just picking up trash. You can add squats and push-ups between trash grabs, race your friends, or do some yoga,” advises Williams. “Plus, everything is more fun with a trash grabber.”
As you incorporate plogging into your lifestyle, you won’t even have to think about it and can combine picking with various exercise routines. “It has become second nature for people,” Williams says, explaining she now creatively weaves cleanups through her other activities. For example, she adds, “We started a rollerblading club this past spring and added plogging to those outings, too.”
Not only will repetition keep cleanup top of mind, but you may motivate others to spruce up their hometowns as they venture out. As with anything, posting on social media can help spread the word. “Take a picture of all the trash you cleaned up and use #plogging to motivate others to do the same,” advises Williams. In addition, you’ll impact your health and the health of your focus area. “It’s a workout that’s good for the Earth and your body,” says Williams. She certainly influenced me to become more aware of my surroundings and make them better each time I step outside.
This piece is part of Green Week, where we’re talking about ways to make eco-friendly choices and contributions at home. Head over here to read more!