The world is drowning in pollution. Health problems like obesity and heart disease are rampant. We are overwhelmed by our digital ‘connections’ and yet are somehow more disconnected than ever.
In the midst of all of this, there’s a Swedish fitness craze that’s taking over the streets of London, New York, Bangkok and Mexico City, and spreading like wildfire.
And it may just be a solution. Or at least a small part of a bigger solution.
Welcome to the world of “Plogging”.
Plogging — a combination of “JOGGING” and “PLOCKA UPP” (which means “to pick up” in Swedish) — is a simple concept that involves jogging while picking up litter. It’s an eco-friendly exercise phenomenon that’s sweeping the globe.
Now, I have to admit, when I first came across this idea, I was sceptical. It seemed like just another chance to take selfies and score brownie points on Instagram.
But, after some thought, it struck me that it might just be genius.
To provide some context, I consider myself to be relatively committed to social and environmental issues (6+ years of working full-time in the humanitarian and climate space). I’m the kind of guy who tries to avoid plastic bottles, unplugs household appliances to save energy, and would choose a veggie burger over a Big Mac any day of the week.
Even so, I couldn’t remember the last time that I’d taken part in any kind of organised ‘clean-up’…
What resonated with me about Plogging is that it took the perception of something mundane (picking up rubbish), and changed it to something cool, healthy, and fun. It repackaged it into an edgy, Scandinavian, and modern experience.
So on 7th April 2018, Social Innovation Japan (an initiative I started with Keiko and Mariko last year), decided to bring Plogging to Japan, for the first time. EVER.
Despite the short notice, we were pleasantly surprised when a group of 25 enthusiastic individuals turned up in Yoyogi Park, ready to bring the #PloggingRevolution to the streets of Tokyo (the youngest revolutionary was under 2 years old!).
It was a simple affair. We split the group into 3 teams: “walking”, “jogging”, and “hardcore running”, to make sure that everyone could take part at whatever pace they felt most comfortable. After being equipped with rubbish bags and gloves, each team went off on their own and had 45 minutes to collect as much litter as possible. The team with most rubbish at the end would receive a prize.
Within an hour, the 3 teams returned to base camp (sweating), and had amassed 6 bags full of litter. From bottles to batteries, there was a surprising amount of the stuff. And the ploggers, who started off as strangers, were deep in chatter, discussing everything from politics to pizza. Some of the comments that bubbled up included “I never knew that Tokyo had so much rubbish”, “that was a killer workout”, and “that was surprisingly fun!”.
After we handed out the prizes and called it a day, many stayed behind and went for lunch together, had a coffee in the park, or went for a stroll.
To me, the essence of Plogging comes down to this magic formula: Community x Wellbeing x Social Impact.
Community — Everyone wants to be part of a tribe, connect with like-minded people, and feel a sense of belonging. Plogging provides a platform to meet interesting people you would never otherwise meet who have similar interests (we had an eclectic mix of people including a social entrepreneur, meditation coach, management consultant, TV presenter, elementary school student, and an AI researcher, just to name a few).
Wellbeing — The exercise brings added value to the traditional “beach cleanup” because of the fitness factor. Plogging burns around 10–20% more calories as it requires lunges, and arm and back movements to pick up litter. Also, a Saturday morning spent active in the park or just outdoors can make a massive difference to one’s perspective, providing a space for relaxation, connection with nature and mindfulness.
Social Impact — Yes, you pick up rubbish. But I think the impact goes much further than the number of bottles that you manage to collect. And, to me, this is where it gets very interesting…
Since I went Plogging, my perspective has shifted in one very specific way.
I have become noticeably more aware of the litter around me, whether I’m cycling to work or on the platform waiting for the train. Once you go “treasure hunting” for litter, after you pick up cigarette butts and sift through bags of paper plates, juice cartons and beer cans, it leaves a lasting impression.
Japan is known as one of the cleanest countries in the world, and until I popped my Plogging cherry, I hadn’t really given it any critical thought. Of course, I knew there was some litter, but I never realized just how much.
And that fundamental realisation can influence everything else, from your daily consumption habits to how much energy you use at home. Suddenly, you think twice about buying that plastic-wrapped rice ball, or using that disposable razor.
It brings distant problems — like climate change and the ocean plastics crisis — right to your front door, and serves as an entry point to a much deeper level of thought. It prompts a critical analysis of how we live, and what we can do to make a difference.
Yes, on the surface, Plogging is just running and picking up litter. But, having experienced it myself, I believe that it has the potential to act as a catalyst for much deeper behavioural and psychological change.
And that’s why Plogging may be one solution, or part of a bigger solution, to tackling the environmental crisis.
Sceptical? Give it a go. You might be surprised at what you find.
About Social Innovation Japan
Social Innovation Japan is a platform to provide people with the tools, information, and network to tackle real-world problems. We create opportunities to engage and learn from leading innovators, connect with like-minded people, and take meaningful action. Find out more here.