Why plogging is the social media fitness craze that needs to catch on in the UAE

The word has just been added to the dictionary, and thousands of people around the world are doing it

Members of Saudi Arabia’s Hejaz Ploggers collect rubbish during their jogs. Courtesy Hejaz Ploggers
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Going for a jog can leave you feeling pretty good about yourself; the endorphins released by the exercise, and even the mere act of motivating yourself to get off the sofa, can be a real mood-booster. But if you want to feel really invigorated, it may be time to take up plogging.

The idea originated in Sweden, but is quickly sweeping across the world. Plogging combines jogging with picking up litter (the phrase comes from plocka, the Swedish word for pick up). The idea is that the plogger manages to burn extra calories thanks to all the squatting and lunging, and the environment gets a big helping hand, too. In fact, the exercise routine has become such a phenomenon that it's now officially in the dictionary. Along with floss, vegan and VAR, Collins Dictionary included plogging in its new word additions for 2018. In an increasingly health- and eco-conscious society, it's easy to see the appeal. The war on plastic picked up considerable pace in 2018, and plogging has become the cool way for people to do their bit.

A quick Instagram search brings up almost 40,000 posts with #plogging. The pictures show influencers, fitness models and thousands of ordinary people all with one common goal – to clean up the planet even as they get fitter. It's shocking to see just how much rubbish ploggers collect. For a five-kilometre run, it's not uncommon for ploggers in some parts of the world to fill two large refuse sacks. Their finds are displayed proudly and creatively on social media, often to much encouragement from others in the community, before being taken and recycled correctly.

Bringing about social change

For something that is so ­prevalent online, plogging is one social media craze that is yet to catch on in the UAE. There are plenty of beach-cleaning initiatives across the Emirates, but these have yet to be officially incorporated into exercise. While the UAE may be behind the curve, the same can't be said for the wider Middle East. Taha Boksmati started plogging in Saudi Arabia with just a couple of friends, and now leads the 80-strong troupe of Hejaz Ploggers.

“I first started plogging with some friends in southern Jeddah,” Boksmati says. “People were cheering for us, encouraging us and some joined in, too. I knew I was on to something big. Many were surprised by our gesture of collecting waste as we jogged, and approached us and asked us questions about our drive. Others asked how they could join, while some invited us for tea and applauded our efforts.”

The engineer now has so many ­people taking part in his regular organised plogs that he has had to develop a system. Runners are split into teams: plastic, paper and metal. The group even have a sponsor, Sanita, which provides reusable rubber gloves and biodegradable rubbish bags. "By adding a purpose, we've found that we are running much more and we're enjoying it. Within a short period, we recruited almost 80 members and the numbers are rapidly growing. It is an amazing sign that we are on the right track," Boksmati says. "We believe we can bring about social change to create a litter-free environment until it becomes a habit, nurturing a healthy generation."

Keeping the movement going

In the United Kingdom, Michelle Parkes, together with friend Dermot Kavanagh, is using her plogging initiative, Plogolution, to do just that. The pair are taking their message into London primary schools, encouraging children to get involved.

"We have secured funding to go into a number of schools to arrange before-school plogging clubs, where children run around their local area to pick up as much rubbish as they can," Parkes explains. "Not only is this teaching them about the effects of littering, but it is also encouraging them to be more sustainable. We tally everything they pick up, and have a graphic on our site that shows how much litter has been collected so far."

Parkes, like many others, stumbled across the trend online. After seeing how filthy her usual running route along the Thames was, she decided to give it a go and organise a mass plog. “We were blown away by the amount of rubbish we found – more than 30 bags among us. So we decided to keep the movement going,” she explains. “It’s been an incredibly positive reaction from members of the public. We regularly get cars beeping and shouts of ‘bravo’ as we run past. We hope that the concept of plogging will make litter-picking more fashionable.”

'A team effort across the globe'

Fellow plogger in the UK, Jo Moseley has a mission to litter-pick for at least two minutes a day. Since discovering plogging, she has built it into her routine. "When I started running, at age 53, in October 2017, it seemed like a natural step to run and pick up litter," she says. "I then discovered the term plogging and was thrilled it was a thing." Moseley turned her plogging experience into a film, Small Things Great Love, which screened last year at the Cinema Museum in London.

“It had such a lovely reception,” she says. “It feels like every week more people are getting the message and doing their bit, and the community is growing. I follow other plogging accounts, and support them with retweets and a thank you. For me, it’s a team effort across the globe.”

The UAE might not have an ­official plogging initiative just yet, but it’s ­certainly on the cards. “We organise many different activities in which a group of volunteers pick up litter while walking, diving or kayaking, but not jogging – yet,” says Marc Ruiviejo ­Cirera, founder of Dubai’s Companies for Good. “Plogging sounds interesting and is something for us to explore in the future for sure.”

As we settle into the year with many of us vowing to start exercising, plogging could just be the hobby to help you stick to your resolutions. Stopping mid-run to collect litter is akin to interval training – known to be great for your fitness levels – and bending down to pick it up helps to work the legs and glutes, especially if you perform ­squatting and lunging motions. For the ­average person, 30 minutes of plogging will burn 288 calories, according to the Swedish fitness app Lifesum. The same time spent jogging will burn 235, while a brisk walk will see off 120 calories.


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But it's not just your physical health that can benefit from plogging. Getting out in a group and doing your bit for your community can impact other areas of your life, too. "It's fantastic to see so many bags of rubbish and recycling, and know that you've been responsible for taking it off the streets," Parkes says. "We've had some great emails from those taking part also saying how it has helped their mental state, feelings of anxiety and also combating loneliness."

She adds: “Any fitness generates a great endorphin high, and when you add the fact that you’ve done a great thing for the local community, it certainly amplifies the experience.”