They gave us hygge and lagom; The Killing and The Bridge. Yet the latest Scandi trend to hit Britain is the somewhat less snugly sounding “plogging”. Forget cosy jumpers and roaring fireplaces — the lifestyle must-do du jour involves getting your trainers on and going for a run, while scouring the local park for detritus that you can then dispose of at your leisure.
Keen ploggers — people who combine picking up rubbish with jogging, in case you were wondering — have been posting their exploits on social media, sharing images of themselves with full-to-the-brim refuse bags at the end of a run. Seizing the current appetite for ethical living and #selfieworthy fitness, plogging is as “of the moment” as trends come, with advocates urging their followers to “save our oceans, our Earth — one plastic bag at a time!”.
In Medelpad, in northern Sweden, one pack of ploggers proudly collected several bags’ worth of litter after an hour of run-rummaging; further south, in Stockholm, a proponent posted the spoils of her work — a discarded disposable barbecue, a couple of beer bottles and a crushed can of lager.
Given that less than 1 per cent of household waste went to landfill in Sweden last year (or, indeed, any year since 2011), while Britain’s national average stands at 23.1 per cent, I felt a foray into London’s green(ish) spaces should yield impressive results. Enough for a few likes or shares, surely. Upon arriving at Green Park, in central London, however, I found that I had been beaten to the punch by the sedulous types actually employed to clear the place; the litter collection van ambling down the path and out of view. The chance for passers-by to gawp at an adult woman trying to stuff jettisoned junk into a recycling bag, mid-stride, went with it. I think I exerted more energy leaning down to examine whether scraps on the ground were rubbish or just leaves than I did doing my actual jog. How would my smug attempt to save the planet work now?
Although my efforts suggest otherwise, the Royal Parks see some 3,000 tons of rubbish discarded within their gates each year, which costs pounds 1.7 million to collect. Across Britain, beaches are fast becoming “grotspots”; the rubbish and plastic washing ashore has soared by a third in the space of just one year. And every day, 2.25 million bits of unwanted packaging are dropped on UK streets, which Richard McIlwain, operations director of Keep Britain Tidy, believes puts us “on the verge of a crisis”.
But can crumpled crisp packets and errant bottle tops really form the next hot fitness trend? A smattering of scrap around the muddied path of the local football pitch doesn’t have quite the same photogenic glamour of, say, a half lotus posed atop a Goan mountain, as workout-types are wont to share. Despite this, the race to pick up and post is very much on. And it is perhaps no wonder that plogging has taken off with such gusto — being at the apex of the millennial holy trinity of wellness, ethical worthiness and Instagram? ability.
Plastic is a hot-button social issue, with the war on excessive packaging now so great that even Theresa May (briefly) diverted her attentions from Brussels to propose that supermarket aisles should be free of the stuff come 2043. Celebrities have also lent their voices to the drive, with Lily Cole, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Dame Ellen MacArthur urging us to dial down our reliance on the likes of the single-use bottles that contribute to the truckload of plastic that gets dumped into our oceans every minute. So why not use our rubbish-clogged ecosystem as a workout tool, too? It’s the logical next step for the “slashie” generation — more likely to skew towards career routes such as waiter-slash-entrepreneur-slash-Bitcoin miner, rather than, say, receptionist; a way to do everything all at once. Save the world while toning up. We’re all multitaskers now.
David Sedaris, the American humorist, has extolled the benefits of combining exercise with a dash of social good. The 61-year-old roams the streets near his West Sussex home with a “hand-sized claw on a pole” and a Fitbit, which tracks his litter-picking exertions: “I’m up to 60,000 [steps a day],” he wrote of his love of social-worth-wellness. “Walking that distance ... while lugging a heavy bag of garbage takes close to nine hours.” It has transformed his local area, no doubt, as well as his waistline: clothes that had become uncomfortably strained are “suddenly loose again”. Not to mention Horsham district council’s own paean to Sedaris’s work — a rubbish truck was named in his honour.
I’m not sure the City of Westminster will be bestowing a similar award upon me for my troubles — my desperate search for rubbish (where were all the plastic bags I usually get my foot stuck in?) probably only hampered the quality of my workout. The refuse collection van tootled back past as I exited the park, as if to taunt me.
But I’m not writing off plogging just yet, even if my morning’s efforts paled in comparison to those enthusiastically posting on Instagram. “I leave nothing but footprints,” boasts one plogger; another eager group pepper their updates with hashtags including #makeadifference and #teamwork. Because it’s a guaranteed win — a chance to display your eco? credentials and the fact you just worked out. As trends go, they don’t get more 2018 than that.
Ethical ways to work out
Planting trees and establishing wildlife ponds are among the conservation efforts of Green Gyms, which have increased in cities by 500 per cent since 2011. There are 100 across the country, which urge people to “connect with nature and their community”.
Chairobics and Strictly Fun Dancing are among the workout options available for users of Oomph, a social enterprise which encourages the elderly to get involved with fitness both to better their health and prevent against isolation.
Running with a purpose — either to the home of an older person whose light bulb needs changing, or who needs furniture moving. A group attend each task, so it’s a social activity both en route and once you reach your destination.