Trash and runners are a common sight on the streets of Athens on a nice day. What’s a combination of the two? Plogging, a Swedish trend that groups like Keep America Beautiful have used in campaigns to promote trash pickup. The word is a mutt of the Swedish phrase “plocka upp,” meaning “to pick up”, and jogging.
On their Thursday evening group run on March 22, 2018, Athens Running Company hosted a “plogging” run that started at their store and wound throughout the neighborhoods of Five Points for three to five miles. My classmates Jeanne Davis, Ashley Buda, and I approached Athens Running about hosting the run and they were just as curious about the turnout as we were. We solidified plans and showed up to the shop early to talk to the runners and set up.
As I chatted with runners about what they expected on the plog, I realized that none had heard of the official term “plogging” before. Several runners, including the shop’s owner, Mark Schroeder, had picked up trash on their runs before. Schroeder also mentioned that trash pickup was common amongst trail runners, but was relatively unheard of in track running. Several runners were skeptical, and didn’t want the pickup process to slow their pace, while some thought that walking groups would be more interested. But personally, I’m not convinced that the combination of “walking” and “plocka upp” would be as catchy. Plalking? Wakking? It’s all in a name.
I imagined that the route would be either a two “slightly littered” to a three “littered” on the Litter Index found on the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government’s “Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful” website. With at least 10 participants to spread the work out, there couldn’t be that much trash, I thought.
Schroeder gave a brief spiel about plogging and we passed out empty grocery bags to collect trash in, and then we were off! In short, I underestimated the challenge that running in culmination with litter pickup posed. Almost immediately, my shoes came untied, and I was winded. To make matters worse, I was already at the tail end of the group.
I’d been using interval training (1 minute spent running, one minute and 30 seconds spent walking) during the weeks prior to the plog, but my jogs had been few-and-far-between due to Georgia’s unpredictable March weather. I was ill-prepared for a steady three-mile run. To avoid plogging panic, I took as deep a breath as I could without my inhaler, tied my shoes and took my time while remembering that apparently “slow and steady wins the race.”
There was no trash left for me to pick up as I trailed the group in a breathless amble. All I could manage to find was a smashed coke can. I was dismayed at my personal failure to successfully plog, but also thrilled that the runners before me had managed to grab almost all of the trash on the route.
Eventually, I found Davis, who gave me a look of concern but also found it hilarious that I was walking 10 minutes behind the group while carrying my single flattened coke can and laughing hysterically at myself. I was happy to see her and promptly decided to ride the rest of the route in her car, while acting as navigator.
I did run the last block, partially so that the serious runners wouldn’t see that I gave up and judge me negatively. Post-run, I caught up over a beer with Schroeder and the others. Schroeder heard only positive feedback about the run, and could easily see trash pickup becoming a regular part of the casual Thursday runs, but would probably skip the trendy moniker.
Once all of the runners came back to the shop (some had already done a second run along the route shortly after I got back), we took a look at the trash picked up. Most of the plastic grocery bags were nearly bursting with trash! Schroeder and I each picked up the box of trash and estimated the weight to be about 20 pounds. The consensus from the runners was that plogging would be a good addition to their casual runs. Some runners even found themselves competing with their friends to see who could grab a piece of litter first.
As for myself, I’m going to add trash pickup into the walking portion of my interval jogs, and hopefully will be able to keep up with the group runs in a few months. If you’d like to start plogging, grab an empty grocery bag next time you head out for a jog!
The Athens Running Company hosts free weekly runs every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. which begins at their store in Five Points. Parking is limited, so arrive a few minutes ahead of time if you’re planning on driving. More information can be found on their website: www.athensrun.com or on Facebook: @athensrun.
If you’d like to anonymously report a littering incident in Athens, please note:
- The perpetrating car’s tag number and description
- The time and date of the incident, and
- The location of the incident
You can leave a message on the litter hotline at 706-613-3506. The perpetrator will then receive an educational letter from the Sherriff’s department.
More information about litter in Athens can be found on: https://athensclarkecounty.com/5109/Littervention-Your-Dirty-Secret-Is-Out