YINCHUAN, CHINA (XINHUA) - Picking up litter while jogging or running has become a significant social duty among some environment-conscious young people in China.
Ms Xu Jia, 35, from Yinchuan, the capital of north-west China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, spotted a poster of a "plogging" activity in 2019 and immediately decided to join it.
Plogging refers to the act of picking up litter while jogging. It is a portmanteau of the Swedish term "plocka upp", which means "to pick up", and jogging.
With a bag, a pair of gloves or tweezers, joggers beautify their running paths while burning extra calories. The practice helps inculcate social responsibility, particularly among the young.
Ms Xu's son, a first grader, now runs to pick up litter whenever he sees any while he is outdoors. "My son cares for the environment. It is, perhaps, our biggest gain from participating in plogging," she said.
The boy was just four years old when he joined plogging for the first time. Now, he has become a "veteran plogger" and often teaches other children how to plog.
"The environment in Yinchuan is constantly improving, and there is not much garbage on the roadside. It's great fun to see children rushing to pick up garbage," Ms Xu said.
Mr Pan Chuang, who works at a local hospital, created a plogging group in Yinchuan.
"Compared with professional running clubs that focus on speed and endurance, plogging is a relatively less intense activity, so both children and the elderly can take part," Mr Pan said.
He is responsible for mapping out the running course for the group. Their route passes through several landmark buildings packed with many small shops and food stands that generate a lot of trash.
The group has hundreds of members, and Mr Pan is still working to expand its scale.
"We plan to set a new route around several universities this year and invite staff from the garbage-sorting department to give lectures to attract more participants," Mr Pan said.
Though Yinchuan is becoming cleaner, he added, there is still a need to raise public awareness for environmental protection. Areas of concern include cigarette butts, which can be frequently spotted.
Plogging is no longer a novel thing in China. Mr Pan said the club he joined, for example, has sub-groups in 19 cities, including Chongqing, Shenyang, Hangzhou and Hefei, and the scale of membership is continuing to grow.
A mega event called Plogging has been running for four consecutive years in China.
Plogging 2021 saw more than 25,880 participants in 256 cities, and together they collected more than three tonnes of plastic packaging, reducing carbon emissions by about 4.2 tonnes.
The popularity of such events echoes the growing awareness of environmental protection among Chinese youth.
A survey by the Credit Suisse Research Institute released in February this year shows that young and middle-aged consumers in China rank third in the world in embracing sustainable development.
The survey, which polled 10,000 people aged between 16 and 40 about their awareness of environmental protection, states that about 60 per cent to 80 per cent of Chinese consumers polled would opt for sustainable transport and vacation options.
According to the survey, Gen Z and millennials in emerging economies are more into sustainable consumption than their counterparts in developed countries.
Mexico, India and China have the highest proportion of environmentally conscious consumers who see the need for more regulation and are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products.
"Each time I see a new face participating in the activity, I have a sense of accomplishment, even more so when children participate alongside their parents. Not only it is a challenge for them to run a certain distance, but it also deepens their care for the environment," Mr Pan said.
"This is the greatest meaning of plogging."