Environment, Running

Plogging & the Evil Side of Running

The runner in front of me was going like a geyser. At regular intervals, she would bite the head off a plastic sachet of energy gel and spit it on to the ground. Then she’d squeeze the living carbohydrates out of it and cast the drained sachet on to the ground with dismissive flair. She had a belt full of gels, all stashed like a gunslinger’s bullets around her waist.

She wasn’t the only one spewing. Sachets were raining all around me. No need for the organisers to mark next year’s course. It was already being done. Just follow the trail of empty energy gel sacs and energy bar wrappers. They’d still be there. Plastic and foil don’t degrade quickly.

The water stations were even worse. Runner after runner snatched a water bottle, took a swig, maybe two, and hurled it aside like a water grenade. Thousands of bottles covered the road for hundreds of metres after each water point. (You’ll deduce from this that I’m a back-of-the-pack marathon runner.) Teams of volunteers hoovered them up as best they could. For weeks afterwards you’d still find discarded bottles, though. What was the unit cost of those few precious gulps taken by each runner?

The litterbugs were applauded

The littering happened in front of an appreciative audience. The people lining the streets all clapped as we ran past, merrily littering their city. The police took no action. Nobody was fined. Maybe the penalty was included in the entry fee?

There must be a better way.

Paper cups at marathon aid stations? Make it mandatory for runners to carry their own reusable cups? Expulsion from the race if you get caught intentionally ejecting a spent energy gel wrapper on to the course?

What can runners do to improve things?

Anti-litter running #plogging

This is where I was going to announce a global movement. But it failed even before it started.

Here is the genius thought I had while out for a run last week:

What if runners committed to picking up litter instead of distributing it?

I wondered what would happen if runners committed to picking up at least one piece of litter and disposing of it properly every time they went for a run?

If you run three times a week, 50 weeks a year, you’d take 150 pieces of litter out of the environment over the course of 12 months. Most of this will be foil and plastic. Stuff that is choking nature, our oceans especially.

Imagine picking up three pieces of litter each time you went for a run. You’d clear up 450 pieces of litter a year. From there, my mind raced to a million runners all following my glorious example and collecting half a billion pieces of litter annually. I’d be hailed a hero, possibly a saviour. I’d almost certainly be invited to posh dinners.

Well, I was wrong. So very wrong.

Somebody has already thought of it. It’s called plogging. Erik Ahlström invented it in Sweden in 2016. Initially, I clung on to the hope that it was a hoax. It doesn’t sound likely that Swedes litter, but it turns out they do. Maybe everyone does, with the obvious exception of Japanese football fans.

So Erik beat me to it. All the glory shall be his. I wonder whether he’ll let me go to the posh dinners he can’t attend?

Here is what I collected on today’s run:

Litter collected on a run in Glanmire on 6th May 2019