Take a run in any city anywhere in the world and you are bound to find litter strewn in alleyways, sidewalks, water bodies and forest trails. If you are an average jogger, you might just jog past it but Bengaluru resident Jacob Cherian will not. He will pick up the litter and put it in a drawstring bag he carries with him while jogging. Jacob has been collecting trash while jogging since the past two years but it is only now that what he does has a fancy name – plogging. "I used to pick up trash while I was trekking, jogging or walking but it never had a name then."
Plogging is a fad that is sweeping the world and that which originated in Sweden. Experts say the benefits of plogging are similar to jogging, burning almost the same amount of calories with the added benefit of doing your bit to making the environment a little bit greener and a whole lot cleaner. For Jacob, plogging is, "The act of picking up other people’s trash while jogging or walking depending on the terrain."
Jacob runs a digital marketing agency that focuses on hospitality, which allows him to work from anywhere in the country. With roots in Thiruvalla, he escapes to the hills whenever he needs a break from his work in the garden city and also because, "the network in the hills is great." He owns a property in Kodaikanal and while he does say he goes there to escape the concrete jungles, it is not all fun and frolic — he is at work making the hills litter free.
While most youngsters organise parties where one can generally have a good time, Jacob recently organised a plogging party in Kodaikanal with the sole intention of cleaning up the beautiful hills. He says, "I just put out a random video of me plogging on my social account and got a lot of queries. So I created an event centered around picking up trash, named it a plogging party and got immediate responses." He explains, "We had 18 people turning up for the plogging party with two of them aged above 50." The plogging exercise was held in the misty, verdant hill station, which is increasingly seeing eyesores in the form of mounds of litter and trash.
JJacob’s participants did not strictly only jog. "We could not always jog because of the steep hilly terrain and the risk of twisting ankles or spraining them, so there was a lot of walking happening too. It was quite exhaustive. We had a four-hour-long plogging run. By the second hour, most of them were fatigued," he recalls. There were clear guidelines too, "All organic waste had to be buried and the rest of the trash collected had to be taken to town and disposed off in dumpsters."
Jacob’s property is at the dead end of the road, beyond which lies a forest and which he considers lucky. "I say I am lucky because I escape most of the littering that happens. There is still trash that accumulates from trekkers or from former residents. I have picked up four sacks of trash in a week while jogging in a one kilometer radius from where I stay."
He normally disposes off them in dumpsters but every trip sees the amount of trash growing, "It has now become an ongoing process because people just can’t stop littering. When you go trekking in a forest or come to a hill station with the intent of enjoying unadulterated good air and clean spaces away from anything man-made, you are given a rude jolt when you see carelessly discarded plastic packets or a drinking water bottle," he rues. Bottles, sanitary napkins, diapers, medical waste and chips packets are what pose serious environmental threats. "Discarded chips packets and juice cartons are very rampant," he mentions.
Realising the gravity of the situation had alarm bells going off. So Jacob invested in bags with straps and he made a staff with nails at the end so he or those interested could walk or jog and pick up trash. This was provided to the members of the plogging party.
Jacob has made inroads into the nearby villages clearing up trash and slowly wants to clean up the main town. He happily says, "We have been getting a lot of local support and there are many people as concerned about the trash as me. The locals have been offering to introduce us to school principals and inspectors to spread awareness on the plogging concept and get more people to participate." Regarding his future plans, he says, "I have been invited by various organisations from across the country to spread awareness on plogging. At the end of the day this needs to be a multi-religion, multi-caste, multi-designation coalition. We think only workers designated need to pick up trash but no — it should become normal to pick up trash."
So why jog when you can plog?