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Coloradans

I just spent a year picking up bottles. Here’s what I learned.

Discarded minis usually come in pairs. Oh, and we can all make a difference, even in small ways.

Here's what one year's worth of plogging looks like, in Centennial, Colorado, on Dec. 29, 2020. (Larry Ryckman, The Colorado Sun)
  • Credibility:

We can do better, Colorado. In fact, I just spent a year doing exactly that.

Deb and I try to go for a jog most days. We once called these outings a run, but jogging is a more accurate description as the years roll past and our pace slows. It helps clear my head, and even on those days when I really, really don’t want to lace up my shoes and step out the door, I have never once regretted it.

We always carry a newspaper bag (thanks, Denver Post) because we’ve noticed that some of the neighbors have their own routines, too. Vodka, schnapps, beer, gin and assorted soda bottles and cans are regularly, stealthily consumed and tossed along our two-mile route. In previous years, the bottles and cans wound up in the recycling can without a second thought.

This year, I decided to keep them all, count them and document what I found. I can’t blame pandemic boredom, since I started this stash on Jan. 1, 2020. This was sheer curiosity, stubbornness and a desire to leave the streets and paths in our neighborhood a little better than we found them each day. I also hope to save someone — or some critter — the pain I experienced as a boy when I stepped on a piece of broken glass and wound up with stitches.

There’s a word for this pursuit. Yeah, crazy is a word, too. But the one I’m thinking of is “plogging.” Apparently there are more than a few of us out there. The Swedes coined the term to describe the combination of jogging and picking up litter (merging the Swedish verbs plocka up — pick up — and jogga — jog). Many others take a moment to pick up trash without working up a sweat on trails, beaches and streets, but I’m not sure the Swedes can claim credit for that.

I gathered 161 glass mini bottles over the past year of plogging, which combines jogging and picking up trash. Dec. 29, 2020. (Larry Ryckman, The Colorado Sun)

So here we are, at the end of the year, and I’ve learned a few things:

  • Someone has a pretty serious drinking problem. A serious litter problem, too
  • Most days, two mini bottles of the same type are tossed within 10 feet of each other (glass or plastic, vodka or gin, same brand, etc.)
  • A garage filled with hundreds of mini bottles of booze does not smell very nice
  • Bottles tend to get tossed in the late afternoon
  • Cold and rain can be a deterrent for the tossers, but not necessarily
  • Never assume a bottle is empty (learned the hard way)
  • Most of the bottles were tossed with their caps on

I actually don’t mind picking up the bottles at this point. It’s just become part of the daily rhythm of life. Picking up still-intact glass bottles feels particularly satisfying.

I put my Denver Post newspaper bags to good use sorting hundeds of bottles collected during a year of plogging. Dec. 29, 2020. (Larry Ryckman, The Colorado Sun)

But this exercise has me thinking about 2021 and how we all can do something, even small things, to try to make our towns, our state, our world a little better. It might involve picking up trash (even better: not littering at all), but it could be volunteering our time, donating to worthy causes, helping neighbors, wearing a mask, acts of kindness, even supporting, ahem, worthy local journalism. Maybe you have some other ideas?

And now for the final tally:

  • 161 glass mini bottles (Tito’s vodka the clear preference)
  • 327 plastic mini bottles
  • Dozens of cans (even I don’t have that much patience to count)
  • About a dozen assorted other bottles (One Coors, a couple of Smirnoffs)

It’s all going away in the recycling bin soon, and good riddance. Sure, we likely will pick up more bottles tomorrow, but the bottle-hoarding project has ended. It might take another year to air out the garage.

On to new habits. I have a new, 1,162-page book staring at me from a shelf, and it’s not exactly going to read itself. At least it’s not in Swedish.


Larry Ryckman is Editor and co-founder of The Colorado Sun.

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