I long ago lost count of how many rubber gloves, Gatorade bottles and disposable masks I encounter during my daily runs through Chicago. But considering that the world is burning, what if I made it a point to pick up and properly dispose of at least a few stray beer cans and tiny weed baggies along the way?
That’s what a growing movement of “ploggers” want more runners like me to consider. Originating in Sweden four years ago, plogging is the simple act of picking up garbage along your running path (the term is a portmanteau of the Swedish verbs for “jog” and “pick up”). It’s slowly but surely spread throughout Europe, often touted as the perfect way to work out while helping save the planet.
And while it hasn’t caught on as much here in the U.S., there are a few American ploggers dedicated to spreading the word. “I typically do a big plog once a week, and try to do some light plogging on most other runs or walks,” says Katie Murray, a 28-year-old in Florida. “For the big plogs, I have it in my head to pick up trash, and the exercise is a great side effect. Otherwise, I’ll go for a walk and happen to bring a bag. That’s usually a smaller plog.”
As a runner, having to stop and pick up trash would seem like an impediment, but ploggers have that part figured out — bending down to pick up the garbage as though they’re at the squat rack or it’s part of a HIIT workout. “As someone who uses and gets value from the earth and its running trails, I should do my part to take care of it where I can,” explains Erin, a 33-year-old lifelong runner in Connecticut. She discovered the plogging movement on Reddit, where she realized she could integrate squats and hamstring stretches into the clean-up portion of her run.
“I find that many ploggers tend to be a bit more on the exercise-heavy side rather than the trash-pickup side, but it seems to differ person-to-person,” says Murray, who generally falls on the trash-pickup side of things herself.
Cleaning up trash mile after mile, day after day does present a significant mental challenge when the path you just cleared is once more full of muddy Latex gloves and old batteries. “There have definitely been times when it feels defeating, like, ‘I just cleaned this,’ or ‘There’s so much,’” Murray says. “But once you’re done, it’s a really great feeling.”
An even better feeling, she says, is evangelizing on plogging’s behalf: “It’s an amazing feeling when someone says, ‘You inspired me to go out and plog today!’”
With that in mind, Murray regularly posts videos of her plog hauls on YouTube and Instagram, along with being a vocal advocate for groups like Keep America Beautiful. “I’m a big supporter of the idea that everyone’s individual efforts add up to make a big difference,” she says.
Considering she pulled in 10 pounds of trash during her weekend runs alone, it’s certainly not a garbage theory.