‘Plogging’ picks up steam – and trash – worldwide

Why We Wrote This

It is perhaps a diversion for the inveterate multitasker. Enthusiasts of a Swedish-coined term, “plogging,” marry running with picking up trash along the way.

Lauren Littell
Jocelyn Murzycki picks up trash during a run in Uxbridge, Mass., in November. What Ms. Murzycki says she's been doing for years – simultaneously running and collecting litter – has a Swedish-coined name, plogging, which entered at least one English dictionary last year.

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When Erik Ahlström moved to Stockholm, he was overwhelmed by litter in the streets and began gathering friends to help clean up while they were out running. Thus was born plogging, a mash-up of two Swedish words that mean “to pick up” and “to jog.” Running has long been a great equalizer – the sport accessible to anyone. Now, social media and running groups are mobilizing people to plog. And if there is something that Scandinavians do well, it’s community: In 2016, the  Danish “hygge” ideals of coziness and comfort spread as a cultural phenomenon to cope with the long and dark nights of winter. If hygge encourages people to hunker down with a blanket and good company, Mr. Ahlström hopes plogging will inspire people to take action outdoors. For Jocelyn Murzycki, it’s become a way of life. Even in winter, with the snow beginning to arrive, Ms. Murzycki says she isn’t hanging up her trash bag anytime soon. “I do it year-round and I’ll probably do it for the rest of my life. Because I truly enjoy it,” she says.

It’s 6:15 a.m. on a school day, and Jocelyn Murzycki has two kids she needs to get out the door in an hour. As the sun begins to lighten the sky above Uxbridge, Mass., Ms. Murzycki could try and snag a few more minutes of sleep. Instead, she’s heading out in the freezing cold on her daily plog – a run to hunt for trash.

First, the essentials: a trash grabber and a reusable shopping bag, one side for landfill and the other for recycling. Bundled against the chill, Murzycki jogs purposefully down Main Street, bag swishing at her side, pausing briefly to retrieve a plastic cup, still full of fresh ice. She usually needs to stop halfway through her 20-minute run to empty her bag. Within a few hours Murzycki says the street will look littered again. But she isn’t deterred – it just adds fuel to her plogging fire.  

The word “plogging” comes from plogga, a combination of two Swedish words that mean to pick up, “plocka upp,” and jog, “jogga.”

Murzycki, an administrative assistant for a financial planning company, has been doing this for a few years now – sweeping through her neighborhood and scooping up everything from to-go containers to plastic straws – even before the plogging trend had hit the United States.

“It really is super depressing if you go out every single day and just pick up trash,” she says. But she’s figured out how to make it fun by jogging with friends and upping the workout: finding a tiny glass bottle adds one pushup, finding a straw means doing one squat.   

Swedish plogging founder Erik Ahlström says he was inspired to give a name to the practice in 2016 after moving to Stockholm and feeling overwhelmed by the amount of litter. So he began gathering friends to clean up the neighborhood while out for runs. The name helped give the activity attention and focus.

Now Mr. Ahlström is traveling the world, preaching the benefits of plogging to receptive audiences in New Zealand, Vietnam, and Morocco, to name a few. In the US, Keep America Beautiful has helped launch an app that allows users to log the miles traveled and estimate calories burned while plogging. Social media and running groups are mobilizing people to get out and plog: The “plogging” hashtag alone has more than 40,000 Instagram posts. The word was added to the Collins English Dictionary just last year.   

Running has long been a great equalizer: It’s a sport accessible to anyone regardless of background, gender, age, or even ability. Behind the upper echelons of elite runners are millions who sign up for road races with no other goal than to simply finish. In the US, participation in road races grew 300 percent from 1990 to its peak in 2013.

“Running encourages good values around community health,” says Bruce Kidd, a former Olympian and professor of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto. “[It] provides wonderful opportunities for self achievement, goal setting,... and confidence building in a way that you control everything yourself.”

And if there is something that Scandinavians do well, it’s community. In 2016, the Danish “hygge” ideals of coziness and comfort spread worldwide as a cultural phenomenon to cope with the long and dark nights of winter.

But the spread of plogging has had a different effect. It gave a name to something that people were already doing at a time of heightened awareness of waste. In Sweden, for example, 2.7 million cigarette butts containing plastic are discarded every day. If hygge encourages people to hunker down with a blanket and good company, Ahlström hopes plogging will inspire people to take action in the outdoors.   

And it seems to be doing just that.

“Someone posted on our town [Facebook page] saying, ‘Oh what a great idea. We should do this.’ And I was like, I have been doing this!” Murzycki says.

The idea of slowing down a run to pick up someone else’s trash, however, isn’t picking up speed among all runners.

Marc Almanzan, a frequent amateur marathoner, is known for collecting litter on his runs in Boston – but only if there is a trash can in sight. And he definitely puts running before plogging. “If I were to ever plog it would need to be a very specific kind of event or time and place for it,” says Mr. Almanzan.      

But for people like Murzycki it’s become a way of life. At her daughter’s sporting events she introduces herself as a plogger to the other parents, selling it as a fun way to clean up the community.

Even now with the snow beginning to arrive Murzycki says she isn’t hanging up her trash bag anytime soon.

“I do it year-round and I’ll probably do it for the rest of my life. Because I truly enjoy it,” she says.

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