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Plogging with Purpose: Reflections from the Iota Chapter at Washington College

The Iota KAO Chapter at Washington College was assigned to pick up trash while doing some form of exercise for their unique chapter challenge in part of the KAO 60 Day Carbon Footprint Challenge with the Footprint App. Although Covid-19 restrictions prevented the chapter from completing the challenge together, individually, students covered way more ground and were able to collect trash from neighborhoods, parks, baseball fields, and off road paths. Below are the reflections from their plogging experience.

"While picking up trash along a beach on the Chester River, Paleena and I thought about the importance of proper trash removal. Some of the trash pieces were new but some were obviously very old and had decayed into multiple pieces over time. Improper trash removal can lead to the accumulation of plastics in the environment as it breaks down into small pieces but never decomposes." - Emma M. and Paleena

"As I was going for a run near my house, I noticed a plastic bag stuck in a low hanging tree. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to pick up trash as the bag was already part of the litter. A few steps later, I found another plastic bag. As I continued to run with my two plastic bags, I knew there was always some trash in the state game lands ahead of me. I slowed down to a walk to find as much trash as I could and was able to find enough to fill both of the plastic bags. It is always concerning to see this much trash especially in a park or protected public land. It was nice to feel like I was helping out my local environment especially while I was picking up Styrofoam and plastic out of a little ephemeral stream running under the road. I was also able to recycle some of this trash which was a bonus. Whenever I am out in nature, I always try to pick up trash. I think it is something that everybody should do and I will definitely continue to do it to keep the places that I love litter-free. It is such an easy thing to do whether it just be picking up a few things on the way back from a hike or making a day out of picking up trash along a roadway. If everybody did it just a few times a year, there would be a lot less litter and we would have a cleaner environment overall." -Willie

"I decided to re-define what trash is and how it can contribute to our environment. As you can see, I have a reusable container filled with orange peels. Instead of throwing them away, I went to my Campus Garden to compost them. I spent some time talking to the plants and said ‘excuse me’ as I walked around. The flowers are blooming, and the insects are super active. It was a pleasant experience for my nature walk. I encourage others to do the same if they can." -Queen

"I walk the same 4-mile loop almost every day. I always notice an unfortunate amount of side-of-the-road litter. When I read the goal of this challenge, I knew that I would incorporate plogging into this daily loop. I took a trash bag with me and a pair of gloves and picked up scraps. Almost all of it was plastic with the exception of a few cans and glass bottles. Also, much of the plastic was the waste from fast food restaurants. It was disheartening to see so much garbage along my daily walk, especially noticing that much of it looked like it had been thrown recently. The carbon 60-day challenge has been eye opening in a few ways. Prior to the challenge, I had already been a practicing pescatarian (eating fish but no other meats), however I found myself indicating that my daily meal had been ‘omnivorous’ far more often than ‘vegetarian’ as I had hoped. Although I know cutting out items such as beef and pork significantly lowers one’s carbon footprint, I had hoped I was doing more.

Also, having to input my daily mileage in my gas car was eye opening. Although my roommates and I carpool when possible (ex. To the grocery store) I still found myself spending a significant amount of time in my car alone. I will continue to stay mindful of my sustainable practices after the 60-day challenge is done." -Shannon

"Between school and work, I've not had a lot of time for big trips and outdoor adventures, but my mom and I try to take a walk around the neighborhood on the evenings we're both home. On our usual route, there are a number of empty lots or small plots of land not really owned by anyone, thus not maintained by anyone. I've watched the litter pile up in these spots for months now, and this challenge motivated me to actually do something about it. For the past week or so, we've picked a different spot on each walk and spent a bit of time cleaning up the trash there. I suspect some of the litter actually blew from neighboring houses' trash cans, but a lot of what we found seemed to be empty bottles and drink cups so close to the road they must've been thrown from passing cars. At first I felt nervous and a little disheartened about the assignment because I figured I wouldn't be able to get to a state park or a more "nature-y" location, but I realized there's definitely something to be gained from trying to beautify your own immediate neighborhood. I'm not far from the bay, and that garbage would've definitely ended up floating in the water eventually. Moreover, the street corners just look nicer now that they're not full of Wawa cups and discarded shopping bags." -Alaina

"For my plog challenge, I picked up trash while doing lunges. Every morning, I do a lap of lunges around the WAC baseball field, so I decided to pick up any trash I saw while doing them. There was not too much trash, but it was interesting to see how much trash I actually noticed when I was looking for it rather than just doing my lunges. I will now make it a point to pick up trash while doing my lunges. It was nice to see how little trash there was which shows how good our WAC students are about throwing trash away. One thing I did notice was how few trash cans there are around the baseball field and the couple of trash cans I did see were closed off. Luckily, I live in the Western Shore, so when I was finished with my lunges, I threw away the trash in the cans in my building

"It’s participating in occasional activities like these trash clean-ups, that makes me realize how simple it is to make these habits a part of my daily life. Pretty much everywhere we go, there is going to be some sort of litter that needs to be put where it belongs, and knowing this is the motivation I need to actively continue these habits. It is such a simple task, and though it may not seem like a big contribution to the planet’s health, the continuation of these acts can have a great effect. Especially in challenges like these, where multiple groups are participating in different areas, the amount of trash that gets cleaned up becomes part of the larger contribution. Cleaning up along the side of local landscapes may not sound like a lot of fun to most people, but if it's done with friends and with the knowledge that you’re making a difference, trash clean-ups become fun, beneficial activities." -Leah

"I love going for hikes to relax and connect with nature, but days like today really sadden me. The amount of trash we picked up in just a small section was huge and speaks to how much litter is present everywhere. Whenever Leah and I go on hikes, we always try and pick up trash because we want to keep the environment healthy. It blows my mind how the majority of people can walk and or drive past vast amounts of trash everyday and feel no obligation to pick it up. My experience today has further motivated me to increase the amount of environmental education the general public id given, and to inspire others to keep our environment clean!"

-Emma C.

"I live in northern New Jersey, so for my plogging challenge I went down to some walking paths in the Meadowlands. This once large stretch of habitat is now segmented, limited, and dominated by people and industry. It is bisected by I-95 North, a noisy line drawn through the marshlands. However, De Korte Park is an area that is generally clean and taken care of, and it has a beautiful view of the NYC skyline. It’s a popular spot for class trips or getting in a walk on your lunch break. My friend Evan and I came prepared with bags, gloves, hand sanitizer, and face masks. We first walked over the boardwalk path that cuts across the water. There wasn’t much trash on the boardwalk itself but there were lots of small bits of trash in the water. This part was frustrating because much of it was impossible to reach from the boards. We fished out bottle caps, snack wrappers, shards of plastic, and a few disposable face masks. Back on the main path, I pulled a very small Croc shoe out from underneath a tree, and we found several abandoned car tires that were much too large for us to collect in our trash bags. In the end, we filled up two bags of trash and felt like we made a difference!" -Melissa

"For the chapter challenge, I walked along the Easton bike path and picked up trash. The Easton bike bath is notorious for having litter thrown everywhere and was a great place to go clean up. After an hour and a half, I had only walked one mile of the bike path and used multiple bags to pick up trash. There was mostly garbage along the bike path, but I did find some recyclable beer bottles and some paper items. There were only two plastic bottles found, and I was actually expecting more, but there was a lot of little plastic pieces found along the trail. Ironically, at the end of the bike path there were multiple garbage and recycling bins but loads of trash thrown in the woods and the ditch on the other side. It’s sad to note that even when there’s a trash bin nearby, people will still throw their garbage to the side." -Claire

"I went out to a trail near my house to complete the trash clean-up earlier this week. It was definitely cleaner than I expected it to be, but I still was able to find some discarded plastic bottles and bags that I was able to bring back for proper disposal. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos since I left my phone at home given that the trail was in walking distance. However I think that was for the best because that distraction was eliminated and made me more aware and appreciative of my surroundings! I think especially right now when we as a world are so technology reliant, doing this activity was a good reminder to get outside, enjoy unplugged time, and appreciate the environment around us." -Samina

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