The New European - - Eurofile -

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.

Photo: Dar­ryl Dyck

A plog­ger car­ries a bag for any lit­ter she sees while jog­ging

Photo: Con­trib­uted

Goodgym Plog­gers

Pho­tos: Con­trib­uted

Goodgym mem­bers clean up lit­ter in Sh­effield

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