How Plogging is Saving the Planet, One Workout at a Time

I check my water bottle, slap on the SPF 60 and adjust my sunnies to get ready for an autumn walk along the banks of the Salt River just north of Mesa, Arizona. Before we set out, I’m given a pair of gloves, a garbage bag and a long trash grabber with pincers on the end. After a quick safety briefing, we’re off.

I’m going plogging with a bunch of women in workout gear, one lone man and a white goat named Bugsy.

Plogging, the Swedish craze taking off on trails everywhere, is picking up garbage while jogging, or in our case, hiking. I met my first plogger on Newfoundland’s Fogo Island a few months earlier. The young woman from Toronto was filling a garbage bag with debris that had washed up along Joe Batt’s Point Trail. She told me she packs garbage bags along with trail mix on every outing.

December 2, 2019
An illustration of a person hiking with a garbage can as a backpack

While you can pick up trash on any of your travels, on this sunny morning in Arizona I’m joining a group of locals, making new pals and learning more about this river that snakes through the desert. Our enthusiastic leader, Sarah Williams, first went plogging in Sweden a couple of years ago. She came home, teamed up with a volunteer environmental group, Natural Restorations, and started handing out garbage bags on organized outings.

“I said, if we can make picking up trash more fun, I think more people would do it,” says Williams, who owns Desert Paddleboards and Arizona Goat Yoga (where Bugsy works). Part of that fun is adding a workout. Every few minutes, we drop the trash grabber and pick up the heart rate with a few sets of lunges, push-ups or squats. That core strength comes in handy when you are standing on one leg reaching for a plastic bag blowing from a branch.

On the trails we find broken bottles, cigarette butts (which take 12 years to decompose) and the occasional piece of clothing. When someone bags a boot – the most exotic find of the day – a collective whoop goes up. “It’s more like a treasure hunt,” says Williams with a grin. Of course, the real treasure is feeling good about tidying up the great outdoors. And discovering the thrill of chasing down a glint behind a cactus and finding a candy wrapper and a beer can.

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