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Antonia Wood, her four year old daughter Sophie, one bottle of fart spray and a whole lot of rubbish (Photo: Tara Ward / Design: Archi Banal)
Antonia Wood, her four year old daughter Sophie, one bottle of fart spray and a whole lot of rubbish (Photo: Tara Ward / Design: Archi Banal)

SocietyDecember 13, 2023

What the heck is ‘plogging’? Allow Dunedin’s most dedicated plogger to show you

Antonia Wood, her four year old daughter Sophie, one bottle of fart spray and a whole lot of rubbish (Photo: Tara Ward / Design: Archi Banal)
Antonia Wood, her four year old daughter Sophie, one bottle of fart spray and a whole lot of rubbish (Photo: Tara Ward / Design: Archi Banal)

Twice a week Antonia Wood goes for a jog along Otago Harbour and returns with a bag full of other people’s rubbish. She shows Tara Ward how it’s done – and just how much rubbish is out there once you start looking.

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and Antonia Wood has just hit the jackpot. The Ōtepoti woman has clambered into some bushes beside Otago Harbour in search of litter, and discovered the funniest thing she’s ever picked up: an empty bottle of “Stinky Spray Fart Prank”. The plastic bottle is in pristine condition and the “butt crack smell” still lingers, but the farty find is the perfect piece of loot to represent Wood’s quiet obsession with picking up other people’s waste. 

Wood is quite possibly Dunedin’s most dedicated plogger. If you’ve never heard that term before, you’re not alone. Plogging is a Swedish word combining the words “jogga” (jog) and “plocka upp” (to pick up), and it describes the process of picking up rubbish while exercising outdoors. The first organised plogging event was held in Stockholm in 2016, and it has since travelled the globe. It’s estimated that 20,000 people in over 100 countries now plog every day. It’s even become a competitive sport, with the World Plogging Championship held annually in Italy. 

Plogging took off in New Zealand in 2018, with enthusiasts from Petone to Napier to Christchurch embracing the new pursuit. Just as well, because despite our Tidy Kiwi image, New Zealand’s attitude to litter stinks. The most recent National Litter Audit found that littering worsened significantly in the three years since 2019, with almost double the number of litter items collected in 2022 compared to 2019. We’re rubbish at dealing with our rubbish, but Wood is on a mission to change that.

Antonia and Sophie plog along the Otago Harbour shoreline (Photo: Tara Ward)

It’s a cool, grey Dunedin morning when I meet Wood and her daughter Sophie at the beginning of Te Ara Moana for an introduction to plogging. Te Ara Moana is the shared cycle and pedestrian path that winds 10 kilometres along the harbour from Dunedin to Port Chalmers, and it was here two years ago that Wood began to notice the amount of dog poo and rubbish that littered the path and shoreline during her regular runs.

Once Wood started noticing the rubbish that lined Te Ara Moana, she couldn’t stop seeing it. She began to pick up every plastic cup, cigarette butt and food wrapper and started documenting her haul on social media. It was only later that she discovered she was part of a worldwide movement known as plogging. 

Today, Wood’s Instagram page is filled with stunning photos of Otago Harbour and the endless amount of rubbish she picks up on her twice-weekly runs. Inspired by her favourite ploggers, Wood began a Plogging Ōtepoti Dunedin group, organised local cleanups and lobbied the Dunedin City Council and Waka Kotahi for more bins and dog-poo bag holders along Te Ara Moana. For our plog, she arrives with tongs, gloves and a rubbish sack. The tongs let her reach the litter hiding under bushes, the gloves protect her hands. 

“Once I picked up a sock, and underneath it was a human poo,” she laughs. 

Antonia Wood documents an early morning plog along Dunedin’s Te Ara Moana path (Photo: Antonia Wood / Instagram)

Wood admits she’s addicted to plogging. “Being outdoors, exercising and doing something helpful – it makes me feel good,” she says. For those among us who aren’t keen on running, plogging can be done walking, cycling or skateboarding – Wood knows a Dunedin man who plogs from his kayak, picking up rubbish from the sea and shoreline. Plogging is good for the planet but it’s good for our health too, with the activity involving a variety of important physical movements like bending, stretching and squatting.  

Wood has bent and stretched to pick up plenty of weird stuff while plogging, including a purple dildo box next to some KFC containers, and cartons of old video cassettes. As we plog along a road beside the railway track, our rubbish sacks fill with fast food packaging, crumpled Instant Kiwi tickets and used Covid-19 tests. Wood sighs when she finds a tiny plastic soy sauce container in the shape of a fish. “This is one thing that makes me really sad,” Wood says. “It’s unrecyclable and they just keep making them. We see them when we do clean ups on the shore, stuck in the rocks.” 

The rubbish we collected during one hour of plogging (Photo: Tara Ward)

Despite the depressing amount of rubbish we find on our plog, Wood loves the positivity of the plogger community. “People are so supportive of what you do,” she says, as cyclists and runners zoom past us and shout out their thanks. Plogging brings Wood a lot of satisfaction, and she’s noticed an improvement in the amount of rubbish she’s picked up along Te Ara Moana over the past two years. She’s keen to see this continue by encouraging schools and communities around the harbour to embrace plogging, and her advice is simple. “Go for as little or as long as you like. Every bit of rubbish you collect makes a difference.” 

In September, Wood’s efforts were recognised when she won one of three national Keep New Zealand Beautiful Tidy Kiwi 2023 awards for her exceptional leadership in litter prevention and waste reduction. Wood admits it was nice to be acknowledged, but she’s also a bit embarrassed by the attention. “I just go out and do my plogging,” she says. “It’s nice to be recognised because it gives plogging publicity, but there’s heaps of people out there, doing really cool stuff quietly.”

For Wood, plogging is about making a difference in her own community. “We live in this amazing place,” she says, looking out across Otago Harbour. “We see beautiful sea birds and wildlife all the time, and it just doesn’t feel right to pollute their home.”  When she runs beside these steep green hills and calm blue seas, she can’t imagine not doing something so simple to help the planet her children will inherit. Plogging is something we can all do to make a change, Wood reckons – even if that does mean rescuing a stranger’s long forgotten fart spray. 

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