Frankie Ruiz got angry during his daily runs around Miami. He was practically tripping over trash discarded along streets and sidewalks. The city was a dump.
Ruiz took action. Inspired by an environmental fitness phenomenon that is sweeping our abused planet, Ruiz began plogging. The practice started in Sweden, where people combined jogging with “plocka upp,” or picking up, which became “plogga,” which became plogging. Runners carry trash bags and collect litter on their routes. It’s a way to beautify the outdoors, not to mention add squats and core work to your run.
Ruiz, the Pied Piper of running in Miami, led the first organized plog on Earth Day along the Miami River. Now he is marshaling the 700 members of his eight recreational running clubs to try plogging. On Tuesday, 500 showed up for the weekly downtown Brickell run and Ruiz handed out gloves and 120 plastic bags recycled from the Miami Marathon, of which he is co-founder, and offered raffle prizes to those who returned with a full bag. They ran north to Seventh Street, then south beneath the Metrorail tracks to Vizcaya station and back.
“People were in awe at the amount of garbage they collected,” he said. “They say, ‘Wow, we didn’t realize how bad it was.’ A runner from Brazil commented that Miami is starting to look like Latin America, where piles of trash are piled next to overflowing trash cans.
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“We were picking up trash in yards, swales, medians. It’s a magnet — trash attracts more trash. And it’s depressing because we grow numb to it.”
By the end of the evening, the group had filled an entire dumpster. They picked up hubcaps, diapers, tire chunks, cans, cups, bottles, wrappers, cigarette butts, fast-food containers, socks, pants and shoes.
“Some people think this is the city’s job,” Ruiz said. “Well, we are the city. We can’t expect the government to do everything for us. This is everybody’s problem.”
The world's daily output of 3.5 million tons of solid waste is expected to double by 2025 and triple by 2100, according to a study in Nature magazine.
In a seaside city like Miami, trash can be particularly harmful if it adds to the plastic buildup that is contaminating our oceans and killing marine life. The Ocean Conservancy estimates that 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in oceans each year, adding to the 150 million tons already circulating. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now four times the size of California.
“The garbage makes it to the ocean eventually,” Ruiz said. “Let’s collect it before it gets to the shoreline.”
Plogging may be a bit cumbersome but the extra bending burns additional calories and uses different muscles. Ruiz suggests doing it once a week or once a month. Run with others and switch off carrying the bag. Even picking up half a dozen soda cans will help make a difference.
It’s catching on, from California to France to Australia, where a plogger posted the message, “Fantastic to see more and more people looking after their local trails by taking a rubbish sack when they head outdoors. It’s scary how easy it is to fill one up!”
Ruiz, who is the Chief Running Officer for Lifetime Fitness and coach of Belen Jesuit prep school’s dominant distance runners, said plogging allows runners “to do good and do yourself good at the same time,” he said. “We can also set an example, motivate people and make those who litter think twice about carelessly tossing their trash.”
Ruiz’s plogging campaign is part of his larger effort to make runners, walkers, cyclists and paddlers into civic watchdogs and advocates for infrastructure maintenance and improvements — everything from potholes to burned-out street lights to broken water fountains to overgrown parks to dangerous intersections.
“People who go out and exercise are creatures of habit, and they’ve got the eyes to observe recurring problems,” he said. “These are easy ways to be involved in and excited about your community.”