By Keith Peters
Back in the day, when Conley Sports was producing the Austin Marathon, and Michelle Sandquist was their “green queen,” the Conley Sports crew held regularly scheduled “trash runs” along the marathon course. The objective was to systematically pick up litter along sections of the marathon route throughout the year.
These days, the global term for trash runs is plogging, a mash-up of jogging and the Swedish term for picking up litter—plocka upp. Thanks to Swede Erik Ahlstrom, plogging became a thing in Sweden in 2016, following growing concern about plastic pollution. The term, and the event concept, quickly spread to other countries and was a PBS NewsHour feature last November.
Call it what you will, there’s no denying the fact that picking up trash along our favorite running loops is an activity that has both environmental and community goodwill benefits—especially if one takes the time to recycle or compost as much of what was gathered as possible. And it’s very popular. There are almost 42,000 posts on Instagram hashtagged #plogging, not to mention countless location-based hashtags like #ploggingusa, #ploggingukraine, etc. A quick search will also turn up numerous country- or city-specific Instagram accounts like @ploggingnorway, @ploggingnyc and @plogginglondon.
Not to be outdone by Instagram, there’s a lot of hubbub about plogging on Facebook as well. Ultrarunner and the American Trail Running Association’s Outreach & Partnership Specialist Peter Maksimow started the Facebook Group Pikes Peak Ploggers to clean up the area around Pikes Peak. Group members collect trash and recycling, post pictures to the group page, and can earn prizes like plogging bags, socks, shirts, etc. Maksimow’s is a small (35 members) but active and growing group, with an average of seven posts to the FB group page every day. Of course, there are umpteen other plogging pages and mentions on Facebook.
In researching this column, the closest I came to finding an organizational champion for plogging in the USA is Keep America Beautiful. And they’re definitely more of an advocate than organizer. In fact, I’d liken plogging to the Runner’s World fun runs in the late 1970s—very low-key and grassroots, free, and uncomplicated by worries about insurance and/or liability.
Of course, the grassroots activity of picking up litter isn’t new, nor is it unique to the running world. Perhaps, the granddaddy of all 21st century litter pick up campaigns is Litterati, an online community dedicated to identifying, mapping and collecting the world’s litter. With 2,350,136 (and counting) pieces of litter geotagged on its website since 2012, and nearly 22,000 followers of @litterati and 233,719 (and counting) pictures tagged #litterati on Instagram, there’s no denying the involvement and passion that an inspired campaign can generate.
Poke around online and see what you find. Don’t expect to find a plogging how-to manual via google search, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be inspired to go out and pick something up on your next run. Maybe you’ll even start a plogging group or event of your own. Please let me know if you do.
Keith Peters first organized running events for students at the University of Tennessee, Martin in 1978, and was involved in producing the Cascade Run Off from 1981-93. For the past 11 years, he has worked with scores of road races seeking verification of their efforts to become more sustainable. He is currently a board member of the Council for Responsible Sport. Working on this column has inspired him to be more diligent picking up litter while out on the streets and trails of Portland, Oregon. Look for proof @pdxpixbykp on Instagram.