Success Through Garbage

April 9, 2021 by Joshua
in Nature

I had heard of plogging before John Lee Dumas, but hearing his transformation on my podcast to enjoy picking up garbage inspired me. Before trying, I wondered if I could make it one block, given New York’s litter. Looking back I can see that temptation to analyze and plan to make me feel like I’m acting without doing anything. As with avoiding packaging, the solution was to act. Actually running and picking up litter developed my four rules as well as produced emotional reward beyond what I could have expected.

My four rules:

  1. Cigarette butts and smaller are too numerous so I skip them.
  2. Anything more than a foot or two from my path, picking it up is optional.
  3. If no trash can is in sight, picking anything up is optional.
  4. Anything wet or absorbent is optional.
starbucks garbage
Starbucks garbage: it’s what they make

My emotional reward: my first time plogging, one morning I ran along Christopher Street’s green-painted bike lane to the Hudson, down to Battery Park, and back. Running down Christopher Street, with the litter from all its bars and convenience stores the night before, led me to develop those rules pretty quickly. But it felt futile and pointless. What difference could one person make? Along the river there wasn’t much trash, but returning back along Christopher Street made the difference. Running in that bike lane back, again I saw trash to the left and trash to the right, but not trash in my path, because I had cleaned it. I felt like seeing the Red Sea parting. I know people will litter it again. I know that I’m not decreasing the amount of litter, just moving it from the ground to trash cans, though I may prevent some from reaching the ocean, at least before sea-level rise floods our landfills if we don’t act. But I cleaned my world.

I haven’t jogged since. I’ve only plogged. Another advance came from practice. Absent litter, I prefer running straight without stopping. Plogging forces me to stop, bend down, and restart all the time. In my indulgence of feeling superior to people who pay lots of money for gyms that seem to offer ever weirder classes, I imagined a running class where a trainer would at random times tell them to stop and do a bodyweight lunge, squat, or deadlift. I bet people would pay for it. That’s what I’m doing, and I’m getting it free.

I didn’t make a big deal of my new habit, though I blogged about it, which led to being on television twice for it. Picking up litter regularly in general led to working with my city councilman, which led to a senate candidate approaching me, then several New York City mayoral candidates.

I walked my friend Taly through the podcast technique. She talked about the neighborhood park she’s walked through nearly daily for years and the frustration of seeing it fill with litter. She fell on the idea of picking some up during her walks, but immediately stopped herself. “I’m a germophobe,” she said. “I could never pick anything up from the ground.” I didn’t argue, I simply supported. Going back and forth led her to think of gloves, which led her to commit to picking up litter daily during her walks.

The next month she glowed describing her first day, sensing feelings of accomplishment overriding helplessness, strength overtaking weakness. But the first day paled in comparison to her second, when she left home without her gloves. She felt so good from her first day, she picked up the litter with her bare hands. Years of passively watching her world degrade were overcome with one experience.

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