YINCHUAN－Picking up litter while jogging or running may not be an obligation, but some environmentally conscious youngsters in China view it as a significant social duty.
Xu Jia, from Yinchuan, capital of Northwest China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region, spotted a poster for a "plogging" activity in 2019 and immediately decided to take part.
Plogging refers to the act of picking up litter while jogging. It is derived from the Swedish term "plocka upp", which means "to pick up" and jogging.
With a bag, a pair of gloves or tweezers, joggers beautify running paths while burning extra calories. The practice helps people, particularly the young, develop social responsibility.
Xu's son, a first grader, now runs to pick up litter whenever he sees any while he is outdoors.
"My son cares for the environment. It is perhaps our biggest gain from participating in plogging," she said.
The boy was just 4 years old when he started plogging. Now, he is a veteran and often teaches other children how to do it.
"The environment in Yinchuan is constantly improving, and there's not much litter on the roadside. It's great to see children picking up garbage," the 35-year-old Xu said.
Pan Chuang, who works at a hospital, created a plogging group in the city. "Compared to professional running clubs that focus on speed and endurance, plogging is relatively less intensive, so both children and the elderly can take part," he said.
Pan is responsible for mapping out the running course. The route passes through several landmark buildings packed with tiny shops and food stands that generate a lot of trash. The group has hundreds of members, and Pan is still working to expand its scale.
"We plan to create a new route around several universities this year and invite staff members from the garbage-sorting department to give lectures to attract more participants," he said, adding that though Yinchuan is becoming cleaner, there's still a need to raise public awareness about protecting the environment, as cigarette butts can still frequently be found.
Plogging is no longer novel in China. For example, Pan said that the club he joined has subgroups in 19 cities－including Chongqing, Shenyang in Liaoning province and Hefei in Anhui province－and its membership is growing. A mega-event called "Plogging" has run for four consecutive years. "Plogging 2021" had over 25,880 participants in 256 cities, who together collected more than 3 metric tons of plastic packaging, reducing carbon emissions by about 4.2 tons.
The popularity of the events echoes growing awareness among the young of the need to protect the environment.
A survey by the Credit Suisse Research Institute released in February shows that young and middle-aged consumers in China rank third in the world in embracing sustainable development.
The survey, which polled 10,000 people aged between 16 and 40 about environmental protection awareness, states that 60 to 80 percent of those polled would opt for sustainable transportation and vacation options.
According to the survey, Generation Z and Millennials in emerging economies are more into sustainable consumption than their counterparts in developed countries.
Mexico, India and China have the highest proportion of environmentally conscious consumers, who see the need for more regulations and are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products.
"Each time I see a new face participating in the activity, I have a sense of accomplishment, and even more when children participate alongside their parents," Pan said. "Not only is it a challenge for them to run a certain distance, it also deepens their care for the environment. This is the greatest meaning of plogging."