120: Rules for plogging in New York City (transcript)

January 17, 2019 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

Joshua Spodek

If you haven’t started plogging, I recommend it. What’s plogging? It’s a Swedish term created for picking up garbage while you run so it’s running, most people carry a bag with them, and they pick up garbage as they go leaving the world cleaner for their running or for their plogging. So I picked up at least one piece of trash per day for a few years and I still do. In fact, this podcast originated from a former student who when he heard of my practice committed to picking up 10 pieces of trash per day for a month. And if you look up, I wrote a story about him. I think it was July 4, 2017. I’ll put a link to the Inc. article that I wrote about him. Most people do it by bringing a bag with them to collect the garbage with. I wasn’t sure how to start plogging in New York City because it’s so much garbage. If I picked up everything I passed, I might not make it one block. Also, I don’t want to run with a bag. I want to enjoy this process.

As with most environmental behaviors with most people I put it off trying to figure out how do I do it, do I do it this way, do I do it that way. I wasn’t really sure. And if you listen to my second conversation on this podcast with John Lee Dumas, I’ll put the link in the notes, you’ll hear how his commitment to picking up trash from the beach near his home inspired me to stop analyzing, planning and thinking and to act. Specifically, it wasn’t him picking up the garbage. It was him enjoying the process, sharing with his neighbors, sharing with his niece. I thought, “I want to do that. I want to enjoy myself too.” So stopping analyzing and starting doing. I have to learn that lesson over and over and over again that action raises awareness much more than raising awareness leads to action. In fact, planning, analysis, raising awareness delays action, certainly environmental action, given that everybody is plenty aware. The environment has been front page news for years so everyone is aware, certainly everyone listening to this podcast is, anyone who is thinking, “I want to become more conscious.” or “I want to raise my awareness before I act.” You’re aware. Everyone’s aware. We’re all aware. I was aware. So the best way I know how to do something that I don’t know how to do is to start the best I can, learn by doing and iterate to improve.

So again, picking up every piece of trash going through the streets of New York that’s going to be impossible. Plenty away from the street that doesn’t work either. So I started running and I developed rules that worked for me as I ran. Rule number one: I only have to pick up trash directly in my path so that’s within a foot or two of my path. I can pick up stuff that’s outside my path if I want but if it’s not directly in my path, according to my rules, I’m allowed to pass it by. I don’t have to worry about that. Rule number two: cigarette butts and smaller, I ignore. I just can’t stop for every little thing. There’s just too many pieces of tiny little trash. Rule number three: nothing wet or in a puddle. I don’t want to deal with that. I think that makes sense. Rule number four: if a trash can is not in sight, I don’t have to pick something up. Since I don’t carry the bag New York has the benefit, I guess, of having a trash can on nearly every corner. Not every corner has one. So while I’m running if I see a piece of trash in front of me but there’s no trash can anywhere, I might leave it by because I don’t want to run for half a mile or a mile carrying trash with me. It has happened. There sometimes when I’ve run a mile or more with garbage with me. No big deal. That’s what happens.

Now I want to tell you about the first time I went I had to figure this stuff out. The second time I went, I’m running down Christopher Street. Okay so from where I live, from where I live in Greenwich Village, I can run down Christopher Street and Christopher Street crosses the west side highway and there I can run along the Hudson. Everybody’s going feel the following thing. You feel like I can pick up all the garbage I want. There’s 8 million people in the city. There’s so much garbage. It’s not going to make much of a difference. But whatever, I’m doing what I want to do. I feel right doing it. So I’m running and picking up garbage. So as I’m running down Christopher Street there’s a bike lane. I’m picking up stuff just in the bike lane. When I get to the river there’s a lot less garbage on the path by the river. I’m still thinking, “What’s the point? This isn’t really getting me anywhere.” So I run down south along the river, turn around, come back up along the river and then I turn right at Christopher Street and I run up the bike path on Christopher Street. In fact, I’m running back exactly the way that I came down and as I’m looking as I’m running up the bike path I look over and the street has this garbage in it and the sidewalk has it’s garbage in it but the bike path does not. It doesn’t because I picked up that garbage and I felt great. There was a shining path in front of me that was clean because I made a difference.

Yeah. An hour later it will probably be filled again. OK. I’m not taking responsibility for things outside my control but I cleaned up my world for a little bit and I could see it right there. And now I’ve come to favor plogging over jogging. It’s winter now so I am generally rowing indoors on my machine. But when I go out and I run I prefer plogging it’s like running except with random lunges every now and then so my quads start burning really quick. I mean like many people I prefer to run straight and fast. But here it’s like at unpredictable times you have to stop and lunge and so sometimes I lunge on my left, sometimes I lunge on the right, sometimes I’ve been down with both legs but I like it. It makes my life better. I prefer it now. It reminds me of John Lee Dumas. It reminds me of my former student. It makes me feel like I inspire people and they inspire me back. It’s a community thing. It gives me a different workout.

Sadly though, it fills you, at least me with disgust at the filth that people create and tolerate without cleaning. Now I feel like why don’t more people take responsibility for picking up garbage when they walk past it or when they run past it. And how does it all get there? It’s unbelievable how much garbage there is. And look, I just spent time in L.A., in Chicago, in Houston, in Atlanta. Garbage everywhere. It’s not like there’s something special about New York City. Those places are covered with garbage too. It also fills you with a sense of civic pride. I’m taking responsibility for improving my community. I hope everyone does it. Anyone can do it. In fact, I make a little game of trying not to be obvious while being obvious. I dream of others picking up the habit because if 8 million people in the city, each picked up one piece of trash per day. I’ve done the math. That’s 8 million pieces of trash per day. Now I’m not fooling myself. This is not lowering the amount of garbage. It’s just moving it from one place to another. I think we benefit from having the garbage in landfills as opposed to the oceans and streams and I hope that by people seeing it cleaner that they pollute less or that they litter less. It’s funny sometimes people comment that it’s dirty, that you get your hands dirty doing this. It’s actually cleaning the world, I am making the world cleaner. Yeah, I have my fingers get dirty but the people who are littering, they’re the ones who are really making it dirty.

Anyway, those are my rules for plogging in New York City. I don’t have to pick up everything if it’s not right in my path. I don’t pick up things that are wet or in a puddle or things that are the size of a cigarette butt or smaller. If a trash can isn’t in sight, sometimes I’ll pass it by but those are my plogging rules. Usually I end up picking up 10, maybe 20 things on a roughly 5-6-7-mile run. Anyway, I recommend plogging. I hope you’ll give it a shot.

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