Plogging it right

An eco-friendly Swedish fitness trend makes it to India

DSC_5028 Green run: Ripu Daman (orange t-shirt) picking up trash on a jog | Aayush Goel

Ripu Daman, 30, did not know he would be crowned a green hero. A runner and a cyclist for a year, he was surprised to see heaps of plastic dumped around garbage vats in training circuits stretching into Delhi's pristine parks. "You may think our parks are clean. But, when you start going around these tracks, you realise there is so much trash," he says.

Picking up plastic bits and bobs like wrappers, bottles and cans after running seemed like common sense. In December 2017, he started an Instagram handle 'My City, My Responsibility' with writer, blogger and runner Christine Pemberton. But, no one took note of the joggers' litter-picking initiative. Then, in January, a new fitness trend started making all the right noises in Sweden. Suddenly, "plogging"—a portmanteau of 'plocka upp', which is Swedish for pick up, and 'jogging'—was all the rage. Daman and Pemberton hopped on the bandwagon and renamed their Insta runners group 'Ploggers of India'. Before he knew it, Daman's group was featured on CBS News in March. "We are promoting health and fitness for ourselves," he says. "Why not just take a little additional time and clean the environment as well? Besides, we do not want to make it very complicated. It has to become a habit first."

If it does become a habit, then plogging might resonate further down in history as a genuine fitness movement. But rather than hailing ploggers as eco-warriors, it will perhaps make more sense to celebrate the concept as its name dictates: Pick-up-while-you-jog. And claiming that it fits well with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan programme is an unfair co-option as plogging is concentrated amongst urban dwellers with access to relatively well-maintained spaces. The swift lunges with halts to squat and lift, like in an interval training routine, makes for intensive workout sessions. 

Lifesum, a Swedish health app, lets users analyse their plogging activity. According to the app, 30 minutes of plogging can burn 288 calories. But, it is not the same as collecting garbage after sprinting, which then becomes a chore.

Mumbai-based Vikas Chaube, 33, cringes at the sight of trash strewn around. He came across a video of Swedes plogging. "People have started realising that they can do something for the society while they jog," says Chaube. In his first plogging session, he picked up chocolate wrappers and discarded cola bottles on Valentine's Day in Airoli, Navi Mumbai. Since then, he has been hooked. Thrice a week, he comes armed with paper or cotton bags. Chaube jogs, picks up litter and then continues jogging, chucking the garbage as he passes a dustbin. More than just the health benefits it offers, Chaube believes he is part of a virtuous, upright cause.

But, for Deeksha Gahlaut, 24, a meticulously organised city like Gandhinagar in Gujarat offers limited opportunities for plogging. She considers herself lucky enough to find the odd can at a park. Usually, she pounds dead leaves on her morning runs. "Whatever little there is, I pick up," says the English professor.

When you instinctively stop to pick up dry leaves in a city devoid of trash, you have arrived as a plogger.