Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
If the Swedish fitness trend is more than just a fad, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Take a run in any city and you’re bound to find litter strewn along sidewalks, roadways, and trails. The average jogger may blow right past it. A plogger like Laura Lindberg, though, will make picking it up a crucial part of her daily workout routine.
“On any of my runs during the week, I’m out there with a pair of gloves and a plastic bag picking up garbage and recycling,” Lindberg said. The 36-year-old from Hoboken, New Jersey, is one of the latest runners across the globe to join the plogging movement, which essentially combines fitness with saving the Earth one piece of trash at a time.
The form of exercise is said to be an import from Sweden, where the term was first coined: “Plogging” comes from the Swedish phrase “plocka upp,” which means to pick up. And though it’s only March, it’s already been hailed as “the most 2018 fitness trend” in the U.S. and abroad—from Turkey to China to Australia. (To be fair, plogging has existed here and there around the U.S. under the label of “trash running,” but more on that later.)
Lindberg runs roughly four to five times a week along the Hoboken waterfront, logging between two and four miles each time. “I have yet to finish a run without a full bag of garbage,” she said. Food wrappers, Styrofoam, cigarette packs, and plastic bottles (“like an endless sea of water bottles,” she said) are seen spilling out of the grocery bags in Instagram photos of Lindberg’s hauls.
Sure #plogging sounds like another Millennial trend that’s cropped up as part of the urban fitness boom, which has been saturated with boutique studios, apps, and various “athleisure” wear. But if plogging proves to be more than just a fad—one that dissipates as fast as it grew in popularity—it’s a win-win for everyone.
Consider, first, the undeniable fact that American cities (as well as those across the world) have a litter problem, prompting nicknames like Philthadelphia and inventive campaigns like one in Boston, which made a game out of discarding cigarette butts. Cleanup can cost the U.S. $11.5 billion each year, according to the nonprofit Keep America Beautiful, which recently teamed up with the health tracking app Lifesum to encourage plogging in the U.S. Local governments pay $1.3 billion of that, and businesses end up footing the rest of the bill. And that’s still not enough to keep litter from seeping into waterways and natural landscapes—not to mention the other impacts, like rat infestation.
At the same time, obesity is on the rise in the U.S. and elsewhere, especially among urban dwellers. And while there are various elements aside from exercise that factor into whether a city is adequately fostering a healthy environment, encouraging residents to move en masse is crucial as well.
The good news is that America has an army of runners, both those who are seriously competitive and those who prefer to go on the occasional jog. In fact, running has grown in popularity in recent years, if not by the increase in marathons, half-marathons, and other races, then by the number of formal and informal running clubs that exist. Plogging, too, can be as much an independent exercise as a community activity.
In fact, from 2009 to 2012, the running group DC Capital Striders, based in the greater Washington, D.C.,area, also hosted the DCCS Trash Runners. Organized by DCCS president Rick Amernick, the group held two to three trash runs each year, sometimes on running trails in the suburbs and in the nearby Rock Creek Park. Other times, they were in the heart of the city. Each run would result in five to six full trash bags.
The group is no longer active, but Amernick hasn’t forgotten why he started it in the first place. “I trail run often, and every one of my friends is very cognizant of making sure we leave the trails the way they were intended,” Amernick told CityLab in an email. “Without trash.”
And while it’s true that some, maybe even most, runners would prefer to focus on the actual running all the way through, Amernick said that if plogging can garner enough interest to reactivate the group, then he’s “all for it.”