Interview with founders of Plogolution, Michelle and Dermot #EcoGreenChampions

Michelle Parkes and Dermot Kavanagh are friends and founders of Plogolution, an anti-plastic movement, which organises regular plogs. Never heard of this innovative sport from Sweden? Plog is essentially running whilst picking up rubbish at the same time! We had a unique opportunity to find out more about Plogolution, their motivation and plans for the future.

Michelle and Dermot, you are both passionate about plogging, an exercise phenomenon that is all about helping the environment. What brought two Brits to this Swedish fitness pastime?

We both went for a run back in early 2018 and were blown away by the amount of rubbish littering our streets and waterways. We are both passionate about fitness and the environment and we wanted to find a way to combine this. We happened to stumble across an article on plogging and thought “what a great idea!”. Plogging is a mixture of running/walking and picking up rubbish at the same time.

16 people participated in your very first plog. How many volunteers does your movement have at the moment? Which demographic group dominates?

Our first plog had 16 people and over a 5k run and a 2k walk we picked up over 30 large bags of rubbish. Since that first plog we’ve now held over 60 large scale community plogs across the UK, engaging 1,000s of volunteers to make huge impacts to their local areas. We’ve had 1-year-olds up to 80-year-olds and all members of communities coming together to keep fit and clean up where they live.

What if I am not a particularly good jogger, will I be able to keep up with your pace?

You certainly won’t get a personal best running time on our plogs! It’s always very stop and start due to the amount of rubbish we pick up. Usually, the 5k route takes around an hour. We always offer a 2k walking version as well to accommodate all fitness levels.

How often do you organise your plogs?

Before COVID hit, we were running monthly plogs in various locations across London and further afield. Sadly, this is on pause for the time being but we’re looking forward to starting up again very soon. We are always looking for new plog leaders who may be interested in starting a plog group in their area with support from Plogolution.

Plogolution extensively collaborates with primary and secondary schools, what motivated you to start founding school plogging clubs?

It was Dermot’s idea to start plogging clubs in schools and he trialled it in his son’s primary school. We know that education is key to turning the littering problem around. By going into schools and inspiring children to look after their local areas we hope they will grow up with a respect for the beautiful planet we live on. We currently have 34 schools who will be plogging again when it’s safe to do so. The children have picked up 1,000s of bags of rubbish since they started and we’re so proud of our little eco-heroes.

What was the most rewarding moment you experienced with the movement so far?

Michelle: There have been so many! I think finishing our ultra plog last year when we got to the end of plogging the entire length of the Thames (184 miles) in 6 days. Such an incredible team, such a huge difference made and such a physical and mental challenge. The other moment has to be on a school plog when a little six-year-old girl turned to me and said “This is the best day of my life, I get to help save the planet”. I still tear up every time I think of that!

Dermot: It’s hard to pinpoint one proudest moment, I think for me every time we do an assembly and see the reaction of the children and seeing the passion they have for making a difference. Empowering them and giving them the tools to make that difference in an unbeatable feeling every time.

Besides litter picking you also touch upon the issue of single-use plastic. Most people use regular single-use plastic bags to collect rubbish, what is your approach?

We use recycled plastic bags to pick up rubbish and are always investigating new solutions. We’ve tried re-usable bags but find they leak a lot so at the moment this is the best solution for us.

Just a few weeks ago you organised quite a challenge, 24 hours of plogging. How did that go and are you planning to continue with these special events?

Our 24-hour plogging ultra will now be rescheduled to September due to the virus. We’re really looking forward to making a huge impact on the area and highlighting the issue that litter has on our environment throughout different areas of London; from canals to rivers to parks to urban areas. We will be organising a different ultra event each year – we like to challenge ourselves and live outside our comfort zones!

Is there a message you have for Eco Green Communities followers who are keen on taking up plogging, but don’t know where to start?

If you want to go out on your own, grab yourself a pair of gloves a rubbish bag and preferably a litter picker. Once you start spotting rubbish on your run, you won’t stop seeing it! Please do make sure you wash your hands thoroughly when you’re finished. If you’re keen to be part of a bigger group, then follow @plogolution to find out when plogs are starting up again. If there isn’t a plog in your area, let us know! Maybe we can work with you to get a group set up.

Michelle and Dermot, thank you! It was a pleasure to speak with you and we wish you many kilometres spent plogging and educating individuals about the importance of environmental activism!

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