In May 2018, as I sweated my way through a 20km race in Brussels, I had never heard the word ‘plogging’. Little did I know I was at the start of my plogging journey. It was a hot and humid day and I gratefully drained the plastic bottle of water handed to me by a volunteer. Then as I ran on I was struck by the hundreds of other empty bottles that lay on the road, discarded by the runners in front of me.
“Surely those will be cleaned up tomorrow,” I remember thinking to myself, yet when I visited some of the same spots a few days later the trash was still there.
“Surely someone else will pick that up,” – why was everyone thinking that, and yet doing nothing?”
Where there’s a will there’s a way
The experience of that race inspired me to take action against the mentality of “someone else will sort that.” Suddenly I wanted to be that someone. I wanted to be the person that would pick up litter everyone else was seeing, but just walking past. I wanted to be the person that would pick up the cigarette butts that people threw on the ground in front of me. I wanted to inspire others with my actions and convince them to become that person as well. They say big changes start small, but it actually starts with YOU!
I struggled to convert this motivation into action until a friend shared an article about plogging, a new exercise idea that combines running with collecting trash from the natural environment. (This movement started in Sweden where “plocka upp” translates to “picking up”. Combine that with “jogging” and you get plogging). The running community started talking about it, and brands started capitalizing on it as well. It became evident that it was the perfect fit – an opportunity to spread awareness and hopefully to inspire change through actions. Helped by a loyal friend and armed with a load of trash bags, I set about organizing my first plogging event in the city of Nuremberg, Germany, where I currently live.
A slow start fails to dampen our spirits
Prior to the event we had over 50 interested people; 15 of them clicked “Attending”; and on the day (in the face of some awful weather) only TWO showed up. Looking at our tiny group I became overwhelmingly self-conscious and my faith in the idea started to waiver. Was this all a massive waste of time? How stupid would we look – four people in hoodies and running shorts picking up trash in the rain?
I shouldn’t have worried. In the end the reaction of strangers was amazing. Instead of laughing at us they clapped and cheered, some even gave us their own trash. It was incredible. At the end of our session we had three full trash bags of plastic, wet smiling faces, and a real sense of accomplishment. We had done a good deed for the Earth and most importantly I had started my plogging movement.
Capturing those all-important first followers
I won’t lie, there have been times since when I have wanted to give up – Facebook posts didn’t seem to reach people, Instagram photos were ignored, initial event participation was low. At these times I had to believe in myself and trust my powers of persistence. As a result, after a few runs, the events started to become more successful. We learned from our mistakes as organizers, ‘Likes’ and donations increased, and new faces showed up to boost participation numbers.
One person acting against a global crisis might seem insignificant, but imagine the impact when fifty more join you.
What I have learned from my plogging journey is this: If you want something to change, sometimes it’s better to take the matter in your own hands. The first follower is the hardest, but once you achieve that more will follow.
As my plogging movement is slowly growing, others around the world are also taking action. Look for your local ploggers on social, or follow my journey on @roadtotromso to stay up-to-date with our plogging events.