THE LATEST WHOLESOME CRAZE FROM SCANDINAVIA CATCHING ON OVER HERE
Most of the Scandinavian trends to have made their way over the North Sea in recent years have focused on how best to get cosy, dress warmly and make your home feel snug. The idea of getting active and outdoors hasn’t featured particularly high on the agenda. But ‘plogging’ is set to change all that.
This is Sweden’s new eco-conscious fitness craze, combining jogging with picking up litter, which has now started to pop up all over the globe. The term is a portmanteau of ‘jogging’ and the Swedish for ‘picking up’ (plocka upp), and pretty neatly sums up what is involved. Ploggers simply pick up litter they find while out running, before properly disposing of it.
Its proponents argue that plogging actually burns even more calories than ‘normal’ jogging, and many ploggers incorporate specific plogging exercises into their runs, finding inventive ways of picking up and putting away the rubbish they happen upon.
Like that other great Nordic trend, for all things hygge, there is something so wholesomely Scandinavian about plogging, combining, as it does, concern for the environment and concern for one’s own health.
The craze is particularly taking off on social media. On Instagram users can be found proudly displaying the rubbish they have managed to collect on their runs: armfuls of discarded plastic bottles and carrier bags packed with empty crisp packets or other such treasures. On Twitter, ploggers share tips on where and how best to collect litter.
It was via social media that personal trainer Tom Mutton discovered plogging. He set up a group at his work, the Goodgym in Sheffield, which targets litter hotspots in and around the city centre, taking to the streets armed with bags, gloves and litter pickers.
“Last night we ran to Heeley Park [a community park run and maintained by volunteers]. We laid down grass seed and helped cut back the overgrown bushes. Then I did a little workout with them at the park before we ran back. We picked up a lot of litter. We actually ended up collecting a worrying amount of litter, and now I notice litter everywhere. It really changes your mindset.”
Mutton hopes that the activity will not only change the mindset of those plogging, but that others will notice ploggers doing their bit, picking up stray pieces of litter, and be more conscious of their own responsibilities in keeping the environment clean. He puts the growing popularity of plogging down to heightened environmental awareness.
“With shows such as Blue Planet demonstrating the extent to which litter and discarded waste is damaging the planet, we’re more attuned to what a
Throw the candles and cosy jumpers away. Plogging is the latest Nordic trend heading our way. And it’s much harder work than hygge, says LARA WILLIAMS
genuine issue this is,” he adds. While there are groups out there dedicated to plogging, growing numbers of runners are also doing it on their own. And although it might attract some strange looks from passersby, Mutton hopes it will eventually become normalised.
“Wouldn’t it be great if it became entirely normal,” he says. “You’d see someone collecting litter on their run, stuffing it into a bag, and think ‘oh, they’re plogging’.”
Wim Vanmeenen, a civil engineer based in Wervik, Belgium, took up the activity after being involved with a project to clean up the town.
“When I read about plogging in the paper I realised it was the perfect solution for cleaning up the area,” he says.
The first time he went plogging, Vanmeenen admits he got a few peculiar looks from strangers, but that once they understood what he was doing, they were quickly supportive – looking on approvingly and giving him the thumbsup. He found one of the biggest hurdles was the psychological block of not wanting to pick up random pieces of not-very-appealing-looking rubbish. The one essential piece of equipment that ploggers are strongly recommended to add to their running kit is a thick pair of gloves – plus a bag to put their haul in.
An active runner and swimmer, Venmeenen says plogging is unique, compared to interval training, as you’re required to constantly pause. “Plus the weight of the bag gives your arms a little exercise, and you’re always bending over, and stretching your muscles.”
He has managed to collect an impressive amount of rubbish on his plogging expeditions – enormous bin liners filled with beer cans, plastic bottles, and discarded car wheels found at the side of the road. Venmeenen has twin daughters, who he takes with him. “It’s been a great environmental education for them. They learn to respect nature. You get out of nature what you put into it.”
Jim Bisier, an IT consultant in Ostend, Belgium, claims to have been a pioneer plogger long before its recent Scandinavian-inspired popularity. “In the summer of 2016 I found a plastic bag while out jogging on the shore. I picked it up and started collecting trash in that bag. I started doing this on all my jogs, and thought I should spread the idea.”
Bisier noticed other joggers along the shore, and a significant amount of litter that he couldn’t keep on top of alone. He set up a Facebook group, Proper Strand Lopers – Clean Beach Runners – encouraging other joggers to get involved. It now has more than 3,000 members who have collected at least 100,000 litres worth of rubbish.
The group has also inspired the formation of 12 other similar groups, in Belgium and beyond – suggesting that perhaps the country should be seen as the true home of plogging. It just needed the glamour of the on-trend Scandinavians to help give it some global momentum.
Dr Ana Fernandez, a senior lecturer in psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University, says its appeal for those who are environmentally and healthconscious is obvious, but that the significance of plogging is that it has the capacity to change habits.
“By coordinating pro-environmental behaviours with everyday activities you facilitate the creation of habits,” she says. “They are performed without you having to think about them. And so behaviours that to begin with are ‘conscious’ and therefore require some effort, eventually become automatic and effortless, even second-nature.”
While potential ploggers might find the idea of donning running gear, putting on a pair of gloves and picking up a bag something of an effort, it could soon become as every day as slipping on their running shoes, she says.
It also has something crucial in common with hygge, according to Fernandez, in that just as that concept is about more than simply making your life more ‘cosy’, so plogging is about more than just picking up litter. Both – the Scandinavians seem to have discovered – are really about ‘mindfulness’ the practice of focussing your attention on experiences and senses that are occurring in the present moment.
So, Fernandez says, joggers are often running on auto-pilot, not fully attuned to what they are doing or where they are. Plogging helps them break out of that rut – alerting them to their surroundings – even if it is the paper, plastic and rubbish around them. It re-trains the brain to notice what it might ordinarily might ignore, to more consciously engage with what is around them.
So even if the Belgians might have got their first, it seems as though the introspective Swedes are the ones who have imbued plogging with a philosophy: another Scandi-trend that offers considerably more once you scratch beneath the surface.
A plogger carries a bag for any litter she sees while jogging
Goodgym members clean up litter in Sheffield