Interview with Erik Ahlström, creator of plogging

How and why did the idea of creating plogging in Sweden come about?

Sweden just gets dirtier and dirtier. Every day there are 2.7 million cigarette butts on our streets from a population of 10 million. For several years I have tried to change a behavior that I think is a sign of a dysfunctional society without respect for each other and earth, namely, littering.

When I moved back to Stockholm after living for 20 years in Åre, a small ski-community in northern Sweden, I realized just how dirty Stockholm had become. During my daily cycling trip from Nacka to work at Östermalm I was shocked by the amount of junk there was in nature. The same debris could remain in the road for several weeks without anyone picking it up, so I started picking it up. It felt good in the heart to clean up a small place.

Plogga (or plogging) is the basis of a collective name where we want to change the setting and get everyone to become "Proud litter pickers".

One does not necessarily have to run or jog - plogging can be done walking down the street, on the golf course, biking, paddle boarding, swimming or wherever you are

Erik Ahlström

Erik Ahlström

Research has shown that if you go to a sporting event and the stands are full of rubbish, the spectators will keep more distance from each other. However if the stands are clean, the likelihood of interaction increases and they will stand closer to each other. Rubbish and litter creates not only a dirty surrounding but also an antisocial one that distances us from one another.

We in Sweden with our clean water and fresh air should also be an example for a clean environment, zero tolerance to garbage should be a matter of course

If we continue to live as we do now, by 2050 99% of our seabirds have a little plastic and there would be more plastic than fish if nothing is done. You, me and our children eat this microplastic, which comes from land and from us!

Sweden has both the knowledge, tools and economics to be able to keep clean. We could introduce a zero tolerance policy.

A vision is always a vision. The Swedish Transport Administration has the vision that nobody should die in traffic, we have the vision that Sweden will be rubbish free and a country to be proud of.

What is the average number of people participating in a plogging run in Stockholm?

From 5-30 people.

Have you changed your goals about plogging since you started this movement?

Sure! It all began as a movement here in Sweden wanting to change our surroundings and habits, now we are making a positive difference globally.

Do you think that plogging will replace the conventional way of jogging?

In a way - now we run with another purpose. With knowing comes caring, with caring comes change.

What are some tips to encourage more ploggers?

  • Find a group of people to do it with! The more you are, the more fun you will have. Clean up a bigger area and feel more productive pushing each other.
  • Share what you are doing with other people:
    1. Whenever we go out plogging, there are always people who have questions regarding our action. Take time and talk to people passing by.
    2. Make sure to spread your deeds on social media. Two popular hashtags are #plogga and #plogging.
  • For more inspiration, we have a Global Plogga group with people from more than 40 countries around the world. The purpose of the group is to create a dialogue between organisers and ploggers in different countries to inspire each other. The Facebook group is "Plogging World". However, through following our Instagram account @plogga and Facebook page Plogga, people are given daily inspiration and motivation to get out and start picking up litter.

What are the fitness benefits of plogging?

The name indicates that you are jogging and picking up trash, which is of course necessarily not the only way to do it. However, plogging is proven to burn more calories than a normal run since ploggers often incorporate some more movements than normal running, such as squats when you bend down to pick up litter. It also requires more arm strength to hold all the garbage. Half an hour of plogging will burn 288 calories on average - compared to just 235 calories from regular jogging.

Are there also people that don't like what you are doing?

Most people respond positively when we are out plogging! It is such an easy way to contribute to a better society and take action against pollution in nature and most people I meet think it is so simple and obvious that they join.

Can you just pass by rubbish without picking it up or is it like "I have to" now?

It's not embarrassing to pick up junk from the ground. "Plogga" is a fun way to try to get rid of the "bag lady" stamp. And yes once you start plogging you will never stop. It certainly is the most positive addition ;) Everyone can always make a difference no matter where you live. It is also about creating the right attitudes for future generations.

Are you proud that plogging is coming to a lot of other countries now?

Sure! It all began as a movement here in Sweden wanting to change our surroundings and habits, now we are making a positive difference globally which feels amazing!

How do you organise your runs in Sweden? Do you mainly organise plogging in your city or do you also try to motivate people in other areas? Is plogging famous across Sweden yet?

Plogging sessions are ordinarily organised through the Facebook event application. I travel around all over Sweden to do plogging events with people, groups, corporations, politicians and so on - maybe not everyone knows of it but it has grown huge in Sweden with more than 150 events since we started.

Does the local trash service help out with trash bags and gloves? Where do you leave the collected trash later? Does each participant have their own reusable bag or do you provide one to each person?

Initially we always try to recycle what we pick up during our runs. However, if there is not recycling bins we just try to throw it in garbage cans. Our priority is to get it away from the streets and nature so that it won’t cause more harm to nature and ecosystems. Sometimes local sponsors do help but not always, it differs from event to event!

We usually take bags we either find out in nature, plastic bags or recycled bags that are able to be washed. You decide. Anything works, the most important thing is that the waste is being taken out of nature.

How do you organise the events and how often?

Every group is allowed to do it how they want to! A good first step is to create a Facebook group for the people who are interested and from there create events - usually we just Plogg an area with a group and do it as often as people want to, and of course, even though we try to keep an area clean we might try to Plogg different areas to clean up new litter.

Plogging has already reached Latin America, including Chile in just the last month. How do you feel about that?

It's so much more than we ever anticipated or dreamed about. The other day, I was invited to Ecuador to help them set up a Plogga movement. It is a very exciting development right now!