Combining personal health and the planet’s wellbeing

Our zeitgeist column looks at the success of a simple French Facebook idea that caught the eye of founder Mark Zuckerberg

25 September 2019
By Connexion journalist

It is no longer enough to go running or walking solely for your own personal health. Now increasing numbers combine sport with cleaning up the planet.

In 2016, Swede Erik Ahlström invented plogging, combining the word jogging with the Swedish for picking up, plocka upp, to encourage environmentally conscious runners to collect litter on the way and put it in a recycling bin at the end. It soon became a worldwide craze.

In the same year in France, 37-year-old Nicolas Lemonnier, a sports osteopath from Nantes, started picking up rubbish while he was out running and posted photos of himself in running gear with the litter he collected on Facebook.

His photos got such a good response he started a Facebook group Run Eco Team, hoping everyone would pick up at least one piece of trash each time they went jogging, with the slogan 1 run = 1 déchet.

In three months, 800 runners joined in. It attracted the attention of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who sent an American team to make a video of his story for Facebook in Nantes. It was put online on December 4, 2016, and quickly passed 2million views.

Run Eco Team (www.runecoteam.fr ) now has more than 80,000 members in 103 countries and works in partnership with Facebook.

Mr Lemonnier recently spent three days at Facebook in California to organise how best to co-ordinate the different regional and country Facebook Run Eco Team, which would include groups around the world. “It is incredible how my life has changed in three years, since setting up my association and every day I am astonished there are more and more people joining in,” he said, shortly before heading off to America.

He divides his time between work and cleaning up the planet. “I have a team of 50 volunteers and we share out the tasks.

“The idea is that as many people as possible pick up rubbish as they run, and then post photos to encourage others to do the same, and then throw it in the bin, and this can be combined with any other outdoor sport.

“Members can also take part in one of our events, so people can also get together and have a good time. Usually between 50 and 400 people take part. 

“We have just celebrated our 1,000th event. We have an annual one in Nantes and this year we are aiming for 800 participants.

“We will start in one square, and spread out across 40 different routes, so there are lengths to suit everyone, and we will be able to clean up a huge part of the city. The idea is to clean up while having fun.”

He said if 17,000 people picked up and threw away one kilogramme of litter once a week, the world would be cleaner by 17 tonnes of rubbish a week, and he says no matter where you run, chances are you will find something to pick up: “Our runners pick up rubbish in towns, villages, in the mountains, by the sea and in the countryside. We also hope to make people aware of how much trash is around.

“It would be best of course, if eventually, there was nothing more to pick up.”

It is no excuse to say running is too energetic for you, as France also has a Clean Walker (www.cleanwalker.fr ) association which organises eco-friendly walks in towns and cities across France.

It was started by a 25-year-old, Benjamin Carboni, who was appalled by the amount of rubbish he found on the streets when he left his apartment.

He says anyone can join in the movement, alone, or by taking part in organised walks, where he says you are sure to have fun at the same time.

“If you are tempted, put your trainers on, a pair of plastic gloves and grab a rubbish bag, open the door and start to discover the world outside!”

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