The gentle and powerful art of plogging

by Third Fuse writer Phil McNamara

I first came across the term “plogging” about two years ago when it was listed as a possible addition to the Macquarie Dictionary.

Plogging: noun a form of physical exercise which incorporates running with picking up any litter encountered on the route.

Macquarie Dictionary

From what I gather, the word is a derivation of the words “pluck” (or “plocka up” in Swedish) and “jogging”. Since then I have tried to allocate one run in my weekly running schedule to plogging.

Plogging Rocky Gully Wetland, Murray Bridge

Keen to give it a go? Here’s what’s involved:

Before you start

Apart from your usual running gear, all you need is a shopping bag – cotton rather than plastic because plastic can split – and a pair of gloves. I also use a GPS tracker on my mobile phone or watch so I can upload the run to a running app like Strava. It’s also a good idea to plan your route beforehand because some places are more plentiful in rubbish than others. Main roads are super plentiful, back roads can be good and bad, and there’s generally not much to find along park trails.

During the run

Coffee run!

One of the first, and most useful, lessons I learnt was that it doesn’t take long to fill up your bag. Sometimes I don’t get beyond a kilometre before it is full. I quickly learnt to leave plogging until the end of the run or at least until the return on an out and back course.

You also need to be choosy. Some rubbish is too big, like hubcaps and car tyres (yes, I have contemplated picking them up in the past) and some items are not safe to pluck, like used nappies and syringes, broken glass and dog-poo bags full of dog poo. And keep your eye out for spiders and other creatures. Though relatively harmless, I often find badge huntsman spiders (Neosparassus sp.) in soft plastic wrappers and milk cartons.

Badge huntsman spider (Neosparassus sp.)

That leads me to a list of the most common items you can expect to find when you are out there:

  • lolly and chip packet wrappers
  • cigarette butts and empty packets
  • take away bags and containers
  • take away coffee cups
  • paper straws
  • paper advertising / catalogues
  • wet wipes
  • aluminium, glass and plastic bottles
  • plastic bags

After the run

At the end of a run, don’t throw your hoard into the landfill bin. It’s likely there will be items you can recycle and sometimes items you can re-use. What I do is tip it all out onto a flat surface and sort it into the following categories:

  • 10c deposit cans and bottles (we have a deposit scheme in South Australia)
  • recyclables like paper, hard plastics and metals
  • clean soft plastics
  • compostables, and
  • landfill (everything else)

It’s good to wash dirty items that can recycled but if it’s too dirty it’s better off in landfill rather than contaminate the recycling stream. If you are not sure if an item(s) can be recycled, there is a great website in South Australia that can help: WHICHBINSA.

And while it’s all laid out, don’t forget to take a photo so you can post it on social media with your run.

Upload a photo of your hoard to social media

Benefits of plogging

By plogging I feel like I am not only keeping fit and doing something for the environment but also saying something to the people that live around me about the amount of waste we create and dispose of in our streets, in our creeks and in our parks.

I am always surprised by how much rubbish I find on my runs. I can even re-run a regular route multiple times and still find something new. A lot, I suspect, has been deliberately dropped or thrown out a car window but I also suspect a similar amount is inadvertently falling out the back of trucks, utilities and trailers where their loads haven’t been properly secured.

Good luck with your plogging.

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