Can you pick up some rubbish in your exercise hour?

Lottie Twyford 26 August 2021 14
group of trash gatherers at lake ginninderra

A pre-COVID times gathering of trash-gatherers at Lake Ginninderra. Photo: Trash Gather.

With gyms shut, sports on hold and only one hour a day to exercise in your local area, more and more people are taking to the streets to get that much-needed vitamin D.

But have you noticed an increase in rubbish on the ground?

Those behind clean-up initiative Trash Gather have – and they say those daily exercise hours are a perfect time to give back to nature in a COVID-safe way.

Founded in 2017 by a group of concerned university mates, Trash Gather is a grassroots, youth-led initiative which started with a simple mission – to pick up the rubbish on Canberra’s streets and in its nature reserves.

However, the group’s communications officer Jess Fordyce said it goes beyond this and “it’s not just trash for us, it’s also climate justice and climate action”.

sorted trash

In normal times, the trash is weighed and sorted after being collected. Photo: Trash Gather.

As a youth-led organisation, Jess, who graduated from her degree at ANU last year and is now working in waste management and sustainability, said the energy and enthusiasm can be infectious.

In normal times, they host monthly catch-ups where keen volunteers come together to connect with one another and with nature, and clean up areas that need a bit of attention. After the rubbish is picked up, it’s sorted, weighed and the most littered brands are tracked.

The official name for what they’re doing, according to Jess, is ‘plogging’, which she explains is a mixture of the words “jogging” and the Swedish phrase for pick up, “plocka upp”.

“Don’t worry about running, though, you can just walk and pick up the rubbish,” she laughed.

Pre-COVID, each meet-up attracted an average of 30 people and they have around 3000 social media followers who keep up with what they are doing and offer suggestions about where to go next.

“Generally, we work on the Northside because that’s where most of our volunteers are, but we do encourage people to let us know if they see other areas in the Southside or Queanbeyan that need a bit of attention,” Jess said.

And they are also starting to gain recognition on a national scale for what they are doing.

Founder and Jess’s best mate Maddie Diamond was awarded the ACT 2020 Young Australian of the Year for her tireless work as a sustainability advocate.

When Maddie accepted her award, it was Jess who painted ‘Climate Justice’ on her chest for the televised awards ceremony.

Maddie diamond

Maddie Diamond had the words ‘Climate Justice’ on her chest when she attended the televised award ceremony. Image: Screenshot.

Recently too, Trash Gather was awarded an ACT Government grant to run a schools education program called ‘Rubbish Rangers’.

Volunteers attended schools to teach students about plastics and the plastics life cycle.

With the current climate, Jess has a couple of pointers to keep people safe when they go out.

“The golden rule is that you don’t have to pick anything up that you’re not comfortable with – so if you see a dirty mask on the ground, don’t feel pressured to pick it up,” she said.

You need to be wearing gloves, a mask and bring a plastic bag and plenty of hand sanitiser with you, as well as follow the health direction to stay in your local area.


READ ALSO: The secret life of Canberra’s urban foragers


Not only is picking up rubbish an innovative way of getting in some exercise, Jess said it’s great for your mental health at the moment.

“While we are out in nature, it’s a fabulous chance to give back to our beautiful parks and reserves which are probably going to see more visitors than usual at the moment,” she said.

But it can also be a good way to engage the whole family in an activity that means getting out of the house and one that gives you a sense of purpose.

“I think we are all maybe feeling a little bit useless stuck at home at the moment, so why not give it a go?” Jess asked.

The Trash Gather team is keen to see photos of you out and about picking up rubbish (in a COVID-safe manner). Share them using #quaranclean.


What's Your Opinion?


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14 Responses to Can you pick up some rubbish in your exercise hour?
Cath Roo Grassick Cath Roo Grassick 6:24 pm 26 Aug 21

I pick up trash everyday on my walk but must admit I'm muttering under my breath at the laziness of people who are just dumping it without consideration. Take your trash to a bin please!

paulmuster paulmuster 5:08 pm 26 Aug 21

Great article about a great initiative! Here is a novel idea – tax plastic producers to fund more activities like these!!!

    kenbehrens kenbehrens 7:48 pm 26 Aug 21

    ….and that added cost to the manufacturer would flow through to consumers!

    Interesting, that volunteers were asked to bring gloves (plastic), a mask (polyesters), a plastic bag (plastic) and hand sanitiser (in a
    plastic bottle).

    Maybe if idiots put their rubbish in a bin or the Government did what they do in Singapore; fine the daylights out of offenders!

    paulmuster paulmuster 9:50 am 27 Aug 21

    Just do I’ve got this straight – you are 1) criticising a tax on plastic because it would pass the cost on to consumers, while also 2) advocating for harsh financial punnishments on people who litter…

    Let me explain to you as clearly as I can why that would get laughed out of any meaningful discussion on how to address the issue – which we both seem to agree as being single use plastic causing litter.

    The benefit of a tax is that it would incentivise producers to switch from plastic to more desirable materials (i.e. compostable and reusable alternatives). Would it create additional costs for consumers? Probably, but it would also create the benefit of removing a toxic material from our supply chains and natural environments. Something we all seem to agree is a problem.

    Now lets get into the nitty gritty of your idea of harsh punnishment. Do you really think people are going to accept a fine for dropping a piece of plastic? How much is fair? How are we going to catch people? Are we going to have an army of litter cops stalking people waiting for them to litter? That sounds expensive… Or should we go for security cameras all throughout the public realm instead? I could keep going, but I think you get the point by now of just how expensive and publicly unacceptable such an idea would be.

    The old “people cause litter, people can stop litter” is a tired old argument that is only made by the companies who benefit from the problem (i.e. plastic producers). Regulating these industries into reform is the only way to solve the problem.

Futureproof Futureproof 4:18 pm 26 Aug 21

That picture of Maddie Diamond – I can’t help thinking how much water went down the drain to shampoo her hair, how many emissions were involved in the chemicals to make her lipstick, the jewellery and the shipping of the material made in China that is her dress. There’s no such thing as carbon neutral – only hypocrites on soap boxes

    paulmuster paulmuster 5:16 pm 26 Aug 21

    Ahh yes – the old “you have a carbon footprint so therefore can’t talk about climate change” arguement – it truly is a classic thread to pull at when your issue is personal, not reasoned.

    Regardless, I would say it is a fraction of the pollution she has saved by creating this initiative. How many local environmental initiatives have you started?

    Futureproof Futureproof 4:27 pm 27 Aug 21

    paulmuster – nothing personnel, but the squeaky wheel gets the most attention, and the frequent flyer points get you entry to the Chairman’s Lounge

    echoghost echoghost 5:42 pm 26 Aug 21

    70% of the world’s carbon emissions from the last 20 years have come from 100 fossil fuel companies, but sure, direct your vitriol at someone who regularly voluntarily picks up rubbish.

    (Keep shining Maddie Diamond! ?)

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:13 pm 28 Aug 21

    Coal makes a lot more than 24/7 reliable heat for the steam turbines that give us 60% of our electricity.

Jessica Owen Jessica Owen 3:47 pm 26 Aug 21

Is there a reason Canberra doesn't have bins in neighbourhood parks? Moving from Sydney I find this very odd and a definite contributor to all the rubbish I see on my walks.

    Daniel Oyston Daniel Oyston 6:33 pm 26 Aug 21

    Jessica Owen Because there’s no reason people can’t take responsibility for their own rubbish and take it with them. A truck will literally come to your house and take it away. That service is already there - we don’t need to pay people to empty more bins without the rubbish volume increasing. Plus, put some bins in place and watch what happens once they are full. Losers just pile their rubbish up next to it.

    Frank Curran Frank Curran 7:46 am 28 Aug 21

    Jessica Owen great point, I ride around Yerrabi Pond every morning and the pigs that just throw there used tissues onto he bike and walking tracks is amazing. Pretty ordinary when ANDREW BARS on TV every day waffling on about stopping the spread of COVID, try spending some money on more bins around our lakes and walking trails, that might reduce/mitigate the risk of COVID spreading

    Frank Curran Frank Curran 7:47 am 28 Aug 21

    Daniel Oyston great point, I ride around Yerrabi Pond every morning and the pigs that just throw there used tissues onto he bike and walking tracks is amazing. Pretty ordinary when ANDREW BARS on TV every day waffling on about stopping the spread of COVID, try spending some money on more bins around our lakes and walking trails, that might reduce/mitigate the risk of COVID spreading

    Jessica Owen Jessica Owen 9:45 am 28 Aug 21

    Daniel Oyston sure that makes sense. But people don't take responsibility for their rubbish, that much is clear because I pick up all their junk on my walks so it doesn't wash into our waterways or get swallowed by animals.

    Just because people should do something does not mean they will. Expecting them to do the right thing doesn't solve the problem.

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