Every ‘litter’ bit helps

By on April 24, 2019

It’s a way of life. So, you probably won’t be surprised when you learn that even runners and joggers have started multitasking — it’s called plogging. It started in Sweden in 2016 to help local communities clean-up trash. The new activity has spread quickly to other countries around the world.

Plogging is fitness with a purpose. And its catching on in the United States and in Lancaster County. A number of ploggers from a Lancaster group worked with their friends to host Earth Day plogs in Lititz and Ephrata in advance of the 49th worldwide Earth Day celebration on April 22.

The Lancaster group has been active for two years and runs several events to help clean up area parks including a combined trash clearing event with Neighbors United. In New York City, a plogging group has run events in four of the five boroughs, and in Indianapolis, a summer plog was organized by an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. More environmentally conscious groups are catching on to the activity as plogging gets more publicity.

One of the Lancaster plogging groups’ early members — Alica Leeking, a Lititz native — teamed with Bobby Longenecker, a colleague at HARTZ Physical Therapy, to run the Lititz and Ephrata events.

Leeking is a therapist assistant in Lititz and Longenecker is a therapist and clinical director at HARTZ’s Ephrata location. They organized the two town plogs with friends from the area the week before Earth Day.

The group received the support of Brian and Amy Hartz, who hosted the event as part of the company mission to support the local communities. Close to a dozen ploggers headed out in each town Saturday, April 13, as the sun broke through the clouds after heavy overnight rains. Leeking led the Lititz group from Highlands Drive, just off Route 501 while Longenecker worked with the

Ephrata group along West Main Street. Some ploggers walked, others jogged but all carried large, white trash bags that got filled — surprisingly quickly — during the event. First time plogger Michelle Newman with sixth grade son Eli and their Papillon, Max, were pleased to join in the Lititz effort putting into action some of the lessons Eli had learned in school.

“It was nice to support this Earth Day effort,” she said, “keeping her frisky Papillon under control.
In Ephrata, all the ploggers, according to Longenecker were out for the first time.

“The weather was perfect,” Longenecker said, “and it not only was good to be out with friends, but we brought back eight bags of trash and litter that just seemed to appear magically along our streets and sidewalks.”

Eli (left) and Michelle Newman.

The United States is the trash capital of the world. We use more stuff than anyone else anywhere and each American generates about four pounds of trash daily — and of that, only a quarter of it is recycled.

In recent years, communities have been more selective on what they put into the recycling loop. Families who wants to do the right thing, especially with young children who are tuned into the recycling phenomenon — partly through Earth Day studies — find themselves checking the latest email or community newsletters telling them what to put in, and what not to put in, the recycling bin. At times, it can be frustrating.

And no matter how much we recycle, it does not address the litter left by unthinking and careless people that continues to be a problem for many communities. So even if you can’t recycle it, leaving it somewhere as trash — a problem for someone else — isn’t the best solution either, Leeking and Longenecker explain. For years, each spring, scout and service groups organize cleanup days for parks, playgrounds, beaches, and other public sites, hauling away as much accumulated trash as possible to transfer facilities or recyclers as appropriate.

Bobby Longenecker and Dan Herrmann jog back to the Ephrata plog starting point down West Main Street. Photos by Art Petrosemolo.

But litter is just not a winter-spring problem; it is a yearlong issue as litter seems to grow like flowers and plants with the warm weather. Longenecker and Leeking reminded the Earth Day ploggers, that they can plog anytime, either alone or with friends, on runs, jogs or even walks. Plogging is really another form of body movement by adding bending, squatting and stretching to the main action of running or jogging.

Both Leeking and Longenecker reminded participants that fitness experts stress using common sense in plogging, which means coming to a stop before bending at the knees when picking up trash items to help avoid overextension of joints and muscles. And, they stressed, all fitness experts preach never to extend your knees past your toes.

The term plogging actually is the mash-up of the Swedish word for picking up “plokka upp” with jogging. David Sedaris is credited with getting it all started and in walking up to 60,000 steps a day (about five miles) as he kept his Swedish community clean. He kept it so clean, in fact, that the city named a trash truck after him. A recent Washington Post article estimates — citing Swedish research — that plogging for a half hour will burn about 50 more calories than jogging and 260 more than a brisk walk.

The Lititz and Ephrata plogs started from the HARTZ offices in each town and included a planned route participants could follow — or they could choose their own route to walk or jog and collect trash.

For more information about local plogging, reach out to Leeking and Longenecker at alicia.gingerich@gmail.com or Blongenecker@hartzpt.com.

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net. 

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