Picking up Litter while jOGGING

The first time I went plogging, after a 2016 kayaktivist event in Padilla Bay when “Hundreds of people…gathered at the site of two oil refineries in Washington state to call for action on climate change and a fair transition away from fossil fuels,” I was afraid. Very afraid. Not only did I not realize until after the fact that I had agreed (in a group text with several unfamiliar numbers) to go with Sonia, one of the fastest runners I know, but also: it would be just the two of us. There’d be no buffer runner in case I couldn’t handle the pace during a seven mile picking up litter while jogging loop around March’s Point. Sonia suspected there could be a lot of trash left after the weekend event and wanted to do something about it, but by the time we arrived, sporting rubber gloves and holding trash bags as we ran in what was probably a leisurely pace for my companion but felt faster to me, someone had already taken care of most of the litter, likely refinery-related personnel. If only we’d have thought to put a name to what we were doing, we could have been the ones to dub this practice “plogging” instead of Erik Ahlstrom.

Stockholm Sweden became the first city to host an organized ‘Plogga’ in 2016. This event combined a jog, jogga in Swedish, with picking up litter, plocka up. Plogga is an association and popular movement where the activity itself is about picking up rubbish while jogging. It is also just as easy to walk, skateboard, cycle, swim or other. Plogging is a change of attitude and ploggers are proud garbage collectors who do something for our environment and health before it is too late.

When I mentioned my intention to go plogging, my running partner Nina jumped at the chance to join me. We planned to traverse a one mile stretch along Heart Lake Road in the middle of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL) from the Mount Erie parking lot northward and back. On the morning of our adventure, we both donned a pair of gloves and carried a large white kitchen trash bag. The sky was cloudy but dry and it was a cool forty degrees. As we headed north along the west side of Heart Lake Road, plogging seemed easy and fun; Our nearly empty bags didn’t slow us a bit. Plus, we felt good about being kind to the environment. But as we passed the Heart Lake parking lot, we slowed to a snail’s pace in order to dislodge bottles and cans embedded in dirt or submerged in mud outside the road’s shoulder.

Our plogging route along Heart Lake Road in the ACFL

The further north we went, the steeper the embankment became, and the more difficult it was to access the trash. By the time we reached the halfway point, we were plalking with the weight of glass bottles, and before we reached the three-quarter point, I was carefully conveying my heavy, bulky bag with my arms underneath so it wouldn’t tear as Nina continued to fill what little space was left in hers. At the Heart Lake parking lot, we dumped our bags near the garbage and recycling bins, sorted and disposed of it, and continued on our way. With empty bags, we returned to a proper plogging pace, but not for long. Much of what was left to collect was lying in several inches of water in a muddy ditch along the east side. When we returned to the start, nearly 50 minutes after we began, we sorted and disposed of our second pile of recyclables and trash. The biggest surprise: much more litter than we expected to find, including: 95 cans and bottles (mostly alcoholic), 15+ cannabis containers, a bag of dog poop, one condom wrapper, and a used pregnancy test (negative – whew!).

The existence of that much rubbish may make sense in other (more urban) places, but finding so much within the limits of the rather rural ACFL area begs the questions: Who litters? and…Why?

In Littering in Context: personal and Environmental Predictors of Littering Behavior, researchers found, that “young adults (18-29) [are] more likely to litter than older adults,” “presence and number of trash receptacles, along with the amount of litter present were significant predictors of littering behavior,” and “with regard to cigarette butt litter, results showed an average national littering rate of 65%.”

A year ago this month, Keep American Beautiful released the “Largest Study on Litter in America.” Their findings include, “…litter is down on American roadways by 54% since 2009. However, in total, there are still 50 billion pieces of litter on the ground in the U.S….[of which just less than half is along roadways and the rest, along waterways],” “An estimated 207 million PPE items were littered on U.S. roadways and waterways through early fall 2020,” and that there are “More than 2,000 pieces of litter per mile.” They determined that “if littering were to stop today and waste was properly managed, and every American picked up 152 pieces of litter at the same time, we would have a litter-free nation.”

An important determination of the Littering in Context study is that, “litter begets littering. To this end, a key to the success of any litter prevention activity is to clean up and remove existing litter.” One solution, is plogging. And it’s easy. “Plogging is a global movement that anyone can join.” “Bring some gloves and a small bag for trash the next time you go on a walk, jog, or run on your favorite community trail or route around your neighborhood. Pick up any litter you see along your route…

Be kind to your community, and to the planet and plog. Come on!

Litter within and near the Heart Lake parking lot in the ACFL (April 27, 2022)
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