'Plogging,' Swedish fitness craze for people who want to save the planet, is making its way to the US

"Plogging" is a mash-up of jogging and the Swedish "plocka upp," meaning pick up. In this case, litter.
"Plogging" is a mash-up of jogging and the Swedish "plocka upp," meaning pick up. In this case, litter.PHOTO: MAJA TESCH

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - Have you recently spotted people toting trash bags while jogging? Or their hands filled with old plastic bottles? Well, those in the US might see these soon.

Sweden's latest fitness craze - plogging - is making its way to US shores. The term is a mash-up of jogging and the Swedish "plocka upp", meaning pick up. In this case, litter.

Across Europe, there are plogging groups in Scandinavia, Germany and beyond. In the United States, it's just starting to catch on among exercisers who are fed up with rubbish along their route.

"I'm not going to just let litter sit there. I'm not going to just walk past that plastic bottle," said plogger and Alexandria, Virginia, resident Emily Wright. "It's not that I don't think it's gross to pick it up. I do. But I also think it's gross for a person to not take responsibility for it."

Wright, 40, has been plogging for several months along the Alexandria waterfront, but just a few weeks ago learned that what she's been doing has a name.

Her partner used to lovingly tease her about her habit of going out for a run-walk for about an hour with a trash bag and plastic gloves.

"He used to call it my trash runs," said Wright, a writer and cellist. "A few weeks ago he said, 'the Swedes have a name for your trash runs!'"

She mostly picks up cigarette butts, bits of Styrofoam containers, plastic bottles and bottle caps.

"There are an alarming number of full diapers," she said. "They turn my stomach the most."

Plogging not only helps the environment, it's quite good for your health. Think squats while jogging.

According to the Swedish-based fitness app Lifesum, which earlier this month (Feb) made it possible for users to track plogging activity, a half-hour of jogging plus picking up trash will burn 288 calories for the average person, compared with the 235 burned by jogging alone. A brisk walk will expend about 120.

"It makes me feel good for so many reasons," Wright said. "My pants fit differently. I'm more nipped in at the waist. I think it's because of balance and flexibility."

In Sweden, plogger Maja Tesch, 28, said she learned about plogging last year, when it became popular in the Scandinavian country. It spread through word-of-mouth, and the hashtag #plogging started popping up on social media.

Tesch, a nurse, said she regularly organises plogging events in which she and friends will pluck litter for a few hours, then spend time hanging outside together around a fire.

"I run a lot and I love to spend time in nature. When I find litter out in the woods or in the archipelago it makes me sad and a bit angry. When I heard about plogging it was a natural way to do something about that agitation," Tesch said in an e-mail. "It's so easy to just bring the litter and put it in the nearest bin, and it makes you feel that you're doing a difference!"

Laura Lindberg, who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, said a few weeks ago she learned about plogging and had what she called an "aha moment."

"It was a no-brainer. I knew I could incorporate it into my runs," said Lindberg, 36, who runs four or five days a week. "I suddenly felt guilty for not doing it for all these years I've been running. All you need is a bag."

She also takes along a pair of gardening gloves she stuffs into her pocket.

"I try to get in my first mile while I scope out where I see recyclables and garbage," she said.

On her second and third miles, she plucks litter off sidewalks and bushes.

"I've yet to look back," said Lindberg, who works in sales for a health insurance company. "I've yet to return without a bag of recyclables and garbage."

She said seeing litter on the street used to upset her. "I'd be frustrated by it," she said. "Then it clicked, duh, I don't have to be frustrated about it. I can do something about it."

Lindberg said that while she thoroughly enjoys picking up trash in Hoboken, she wouldn't attempt it where she works in New York City.

"With the pace on sidewalks, I'd be infuriating people if I started doing that here in Manhattan," she said.

The environmental organisation Keep America Beautiful recently started promoting plogging as a way to encourage trash-free communities. Spokesman Mike Rosen said when the group put out the #plogging message to its 600 affiliates, it got a surprising response.

"People started saying 'we do things like this already,'" Rosen said. "In Tennessee they do an event called 'Trashercize' that combines exercising with cleaning up community."

But he said for those people who love to jog, going for a plog in its place might not be realistic every time.

"I don't think plogging replaces jogging as a daily activity," Rosen said. "If you turn your jog into a plog once a week or once a month, or turn your walk into a palk or your hike into pike, you'll get personal satisfaction. You'll have an endorphin high from running, and you'll know you're helping your community."