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Swedish 'plogging' craze catching on in U.S.

By: Allison Klein The Washington Post
March 13, 2018 Updated: March 13, 2018 at 12:35 pm
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Maja Tesch plogging in Stockholm. MUST CREDIT: Maja Tesch

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

Plogging groups are in Scandinavia, Germany and beyond. In the U.S., it's catching 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 Virginia plogger 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 months but only recently learned that it has a name.

Her partner used to lovingly tease her about her habit of going for an hour's run-walk 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, but is also quite good for your health. Think squats while jogging.

According to the Swedish-based fitness app Lifesum, a half-hour of plogging will burn 288 calories for the average person, compared with 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, Maja Tesch, 28, said she learned about plogging last year, when it became popular in her country. It spread by word of mouth, and the hashtag #plogging started popping up on social media.

Tesch, a nurse, said she regularly organizes 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 email.

"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 of New Jersey said her recent discovery of plogging gave her 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 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 frustrate her.

"Then it clicked, duh, I don't have to be frustrated about it. I can do something about it."

She said she thoroughly enjoys picking up trash in Hoboken but wouldn't try it in New York City.

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

The organization Keep America Beautiful now is promoting plogging to encourage trash-free communities. When the group put out the #plogging message to its 600 affiliates, it got a surprising response, said spokesman Mike Rosen.

"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 for joggers, a plog 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."

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