You may have heard the term "plogging" floating about a fair bit recently, but what is it and why would you want to get involved? Well first, let me give you the history of how it came about.
The word is derived from the Swedish term "plocka upp", which means pick up, as you probably guessed. The activity, born from a world becoming increasingly concerned about the environment, and specifically plastic pollution, is the combination of picking up litter and running. Fairly simple in fact.
The activity, the creation of which was largely due to a man called Erik Ahlström who set up the original website in Sweden, is meant to join the benefits of running with the obvious positives of cleaning areas of rubbish. Not only do you have the benefits of running, but you also end up squatting, stretching and bending in order to pick up the various litter scattered around.
Plogging along the River Thames, London. Photo Credit: Torbjörn Sohlström
According to Wikipedia, the Keep America Beautiful organisation is now promoting plogging and author David Sedaris is one of the activities most prolific ambassadors. So yeah, it's becoming a bit of a thing.
They're the facts, but what's it actually like in practice?
Well, I've been plogging a couple of times now, once at an event in central London with the team at Vivobarefoot, and one with a group in Regents Park led by Aftershokz. Both were very different experiences.
Picking up litter whilst running may sound like a pretty easy concept, but in practice, it's actually fairly tricky to do right. The two activities are actually quite difficult to do together without having some sort of system to get the best out of both.
The first event I went on focussed more on the running that the litter collection. As we ran through the streets of Covent Garden we picked stuff up as we went past and shoved it into our bags. The result of this meant we only really focussed on the route we were on as opposed to actively searching around for litter. We still ended up with loads in our bags, we were just doing more of a general "collect bits as you move" than any sort of conscious effort to completely clean a place up.
The second time in Regent's Park, the running was a secondary point to the litter collecting. We jogged along for a bit until we found an area that was littered, then pottered around until we'd tidied everything up. It was more of a walking litter collection by the end of it... "plalking" maybe?
Like with any activity, it probably boils down to the fundamental reason why you're doing it, because frankly, if you're picking up litter whilst you're running, you're doing a damn good thing anyway. So, whether you're picking up one bottle per street or 100 in a car park, you're helping enormously.
Vivobarefoot plogging event in London. Photo Credit: Vivobarefoot
The most logical way I can think to do it, and get the benefits of both endeavours, would be to run for a designated distance before stopping to pick up litter, then repeat the process. Otherwise, you're not really doing one thing or the other with any particular efficiency.
I enjoyed it though, on both occasions. It's a completely new thing in the UK so I doubt anyone really knows how to do it properly at the moment. The first time we used rubber gloves, the second we had those long grabbing tools that you use at school for litter duty - I much preferred the second.
Both times we ended up picking up litter in locations that were surprisingly sparse of any rubbish. Seriously, the people that clean Regent's park do an amazing job - something you'd only ever notice if you were actually trying to find litter. I imagine if we were to repeat the events in somewhere like Brixton on a Sunday morning, it might be a significantly weightier task. So, location is a massive factor in the activity.
Do I think it will work in the UK? To be honest I'm not entirely sure. The combination of altruism and running is not something new, with groups like GoodGym already doing amazing work. Brands like Vivobarefoot and Aftershokz are doing a great job in leading the way with the movement, and it's clearly a topic that people are feeling increasingly strong about (one lady even came over to ask how she could get involved). But the key will be in the clarity of how it actually works. To be honest, I really enjoyed leisurely picking up the litter when we did it in Regent's Park, the running element just kind of confused it. When we did it in central London, the added need to keep up with the rest of the group made the litter picking fairly difficult.
Ultimately, it’s a great way to get people, specifically runners (although based on the level activity, it’s a good entry level activity for non-runners), to do something positive. It feels nice to chuck your rubbish in the recycling bins with the feeling of doing something proactive for the environment. It’s not really a replacement for running though, more an additional thing that runners can do.