It’s not uncommon to see gray and dreary skies for days on end during the winter months and on into early spring, especially if you reside in the Midwest. After a week filled with cold, rainy weather, a Sunday with clear skies and temperatures in the high 40s left me feeling more motivated than ever to head outdoors and stretch my legs.
Since my partner and I were both feeling stir crazy, tired of Entourage reruns (sorry, Vince), and eager to breathe fresh air, we chose to start our rain-free Sunday with a light jog around the track at the middle school directly across the street from our home.
It was only 35 degrees at this point, but we were determined to take advantage of our day off. Before we left our house, I decided that this would be a great opportunity for me to try plogging for the first time. In case you aren’t familiar, plogging is a Swedish trend that combines physical exercise in the form of running or jogging with picking up litter in the surrounding area.
I wore one sanitary glove and one winter glove (because 35 degrees is ice cold to my native Texan bones) and brought a small trash bag with us so that I could pick up garbage around the middle school track and soccer fields during our jog.
The amount of plastic products, duct tape, and cigarette butts that I noticed only a few paces into our workout was eye opening. Despite the fact that our route was less than a mile round trip, my small trash bag was almost completely full as we neared the end.
I tried to pick up as much litter as I possibly could, but I’m certain that I missed some along the way, including one Styrofoam cup that had been thrown behind a fence with a No Trespassing sign.
One of the most disheartening realizations of my first plogging experience was the fact that there were trash cans distributed throughout the school property in convenient locations near the track, soccer fields, and parking lot—yet some people had still made the conscious decision to throw their garbage on the grass instead of taking a few extra steps to ensure their waste made it to the trash receptacle or recycling bin.
After about 20 minutes of plogging, my partner and I returned home with a heavy trash bag and even heavier hearts.
As the day warmed up, we decided to take our dog to a local park for plogging round two. This was about a two-mile journey round trip. My boyfriend held our dog’s leash while I jogged along beside them and picked up trash along the path leading to and from the park and within the park itself. Without prompting, my partner began plogging with me, which warmed my heart.
During our second plogging adventure, we saw at least seven different people and I couldn’t help but wonder how much cleaner the park and surrounding area would be if everyone who used the space took responsibility for the litter they brought into the area or made the effort to pick up and dispose of just one piece of trash before leaving the park.
As we made our way back home, I was relieved by how light this trash bag felt in comparison to our morning plog at the middle school and how clean the park had been overall. My sense of relief came too soon, however, and as we neared our home my boyfriend spotted a full string of broken Christmas lights in some tall grass along the side of the road. It’s currently late March, so seeing those sitting there definitely caught our attention and the rubbish-filled reality of the day sank in yet again.
Although we went to two different locations in our suburban area, they did share one major similarity. Both locations had public containers for trash and recycling—yet there was still waste on the ground in the form of plastic products, cigarette butts, candy wrappers, duct tape, and more.
From an environmental perspective, this experience was a bit discouraging considering the amount of waste I discovered in such a short amount of time. With that being said, my first plogging experience did have some positive aspects.
First and foremost, I was able to give back to my local community by making these shared spaces more sanitary both for myself and others by properly disposing of waste. Secondly, this was a surprisingly wonderful workout! Not only was I reaping the cardio benefits from jogging, but I was also feeling that leg and booty burn from frequently squatting down to pick up garbage.
Once we returned home, I documented my trash collections and disposed of the waste and recycling appropriately. I also washed my hands twice (for those of you who, like me, are concerned about germs and bacteria).
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment and pride after plogging and will make a continued effort to pick up litter during my future after-work jogs and weekend hiking adventures. Later in the evening, my partner commented that my actions had motivated him to pick up trash at the park, sharing that it felt good to give back to the natural world we’re able to enjoy.
We can’t be 100 percent eco-friendly at all times (and I certainly don’t claim to be), but I would encourage you to go plogging for yourself and see how much trash you collect along the way.
If you don’t have time to plog, I challenge you to start small—pick up that receipt in the parking lot out outside of your office building instead of walking past and rinse or recycle that empty water bottle in the bush at your local playground instead of kicking it like a soccer ball. Who knows, your effort just might motivate someone else to start their own plogging adventure.
You’ve seen my plogging pics, now I’d love to see yours. Share your plogging pile with me by tagging @itsthehealthyway on Instagram.