There’s a new trend sweeping the nation—the world actually—and it’s called plogging. No, not blogging on platforms (that “plogging” came and went three years ago) but running while picking up trash. Plogging comes from the Swedish phrase “plocka upp,” which means to pick up, and publications from The Washington Post to Men’s Health are picking up on the frenzy. I, for one, never will.
You’re probably thinking, what’s not to like? Getting exercise while cleaning up the environment is a win-win, and apparently it’s great for the abs…you come away with more than one kind of six pack from all that bending over and picking up trash. For those dedicated to the app-driven life, the Lifesum fitness app even includes plogging as a workout option.
Keep America Beautiful recently partnered with Lifesum to promote the trend, with Mike Rosen, senior vice president at Keep America Beautiful, saying that “plogging is brilliant because it is simple and fun, while empowering everyone to help create cleaner, greener and more beautiful communities.”
So, what’s my problem? I am all for improving my health and that of the environment at the same time, but this feels a little like that moment everyone started drinking Soylent a few years ago only to eventually realize it wasn’t the same as an actual balanced meal.
Inherent in the idea of plogging is that you are cleaning up areas that you already frequently tread. When I go for a walk or a run in an urban environment, I seek out parks or riverside trails because they are relatively quiet and clean. I’d imagine a lot of other would-be ploggers do the same. But more off-the-beaten-path places—perhaps lower income or communities of color with fewer greenspaces—won’t benefit much if our plogging is restricted to well-maintained trails or more affluent neighborhoods.
And many people living on the margins likely won’t have the time or resources to indulge in the activity themselves. For a variety of reasons, people of lower socioeconomic status tend to have lower rates of exercise. So while the personal and communal satisfaction may be nice, unless plogging proponents make a concerted effort to tackle environmental justice, their hobby is unlikely to help those suffering the worst from pollution.
I’ve also got more basic, personal issue with plogging: In my opinion, part of experiencing nature these days is learning to overlook all the human detritus. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect momentary escape from the jagged corners and harsh sounds of city life. If I spend all my time jumping at every rogue piece of trash, how am I going to get my nature fix?
There is basically no way to be an environmentalist and not a hypocrite. We all make compromises based on our values and the reality of living in this bloated civilization we’ve created, and when it comes to waste I draw the line at picking it up off the side of the trail as a form of exercise. I try relatively hard to recycle and compost, and really hard not to litter. And I have goals. I’d like to never use a single-use straw again, and I need to start bringing more than just one reusable tote to the grocery store.
So, while I may not plog, I am working to incorporate more environmentally friendly habits into my life. And you should, too: Even though it can seem like personal decisions don’t matter when it comes to overwhelming environmental issues like climate change and ocean trash, taking personal responsibility can help slowly change the trajectory of a problem.
Also, we can all work to get more involved civically, because change will happen if citizens apply pressure. Take plastic bag and other single-use plastic bans, for example. Slowly, cities in progressive areas are starting to penalize these unnecessary forms of waste. Eventually, state governments take notice, either to push back on the bans or to try and incorporate them at a higher level. Someday, entire countries may adopt the practice as the pressure builds.
Reducing plastic use is a long-term fight based on a society-wide environmental problem and policy-oriented solutions. Plogging, at best, appears to be a passing fad.
That said, I am sure some people really do get ethical satisfaction from the activity, which is fine by me. Plog away. If you’re still plogging in three years, I’ll be impressed.