“When we can have Batman, Spiderman, Superman etc., why not a Plogman?”


A jog starts with the first step. A ‘plog’ starts with the very first piece of trash you pick (‘plocka’ in Swedish, from where the ‘pl’ comes in). A forest fire begins with just a small spark. Change starts with an idea, no matter how small it may seem.

G Nagraj epitomises the first step, the spark, and the idea in India’s silicon city, earning him the sobriquet ‘Plog Raja’ (though he prefers to call himself Plograj).It took something very banal – the sight of plastic bottles strewn around at a business-meeting to inspire him to become an eco-warrior and set the ball rolling in the city of Bengaluru.
He is seen practising what he preaches, even if that would mean going to great lengths and running those extra miles – literally – and that is what is likely to rub off on people who see him doing what he says everyone must do.

People like Nagraj and Greta Thunberg in Sweden (the home of plogging, in fact, with the word tracing its etymology to ‘plocka’ + ‘jogga’ = ‘plogga’; meaning ‘pick (up trash) while jogging’) will initially be scoffed at just as change-makers often are. But over time, the intrinsic motivation gets supplemented by a whole lot of extrinsic motivation in the form of ardent supporters. Change then happens, as the only constant we know, egged on by one’s good karma.

Support must pour in like a deluge for such initiatives and when one does not see that happening, one wonders why.
Do-gooders are often taken for granted and oftentimes there is what we can label as a rebound effect. The rich and arrogant, I have often heard saying, “Well, who cares? We chuck what we want to. That guy there will anyway do what he has been doing all along.”

Yours sincerely overheard such a quip when I used to make it a point to pick up trash and deposit it in dustbins, on my walk to/from CST Railway Station in Mumbai from/to my workplace adjacent to the Gateway of India in the period 2001-2003. That needs to change, and hopefully, ‘times are changing’, to quote the Nobel laureate Bob Dylan.
There is a long way to go, and the onus is not just on his shoulders but rather on those of all of us.

G. Venkatesh in conversation with Plogman G. Nagraj.

From Nagraj to Plograj… How did the change happen?

It took something very banal – the sight of plastic bottles strewn around at a business meeting I was attending that led to the conceiving of ‘The Indian Ploggers Army’ in Bengaluru. Over time, it started attracting more ‘recruits’. Disposable consumables are a blunder, while reusable are a wonder.The idea is to popularise the concept of ‘phone banks’, ‘clothes banks’, ‘toy banks’, ‘knowledge banks’ etc., to promote reuse.

The word plogging has a Swedish etymology. (Plocka meaning pick up). It may have been difficult to popularise it in the initial months but perhaps it enabled you to make more people curious…a common trick used in marketing?

When we started on a modest scale in early 2013, we called what we were doing a ‘clean-up activity’ encompassing parks, beaches and lakes, which were littered with reusable, recyclable and safely-disposable wastes. A clean-up motivated by the waste management hierarchy which we subsequently expanded to – Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Remove, Respect, Rejoice – was later christened ‘Plogging’ inspired by the Swedish initiative plogga.se, sometime in 2015. Now, it is a term which is known far and wide, in India too. Names, jingles and memes serve their purpose well in postmodern society, and must be resorted to.
When we can have Batman, Spiderman, Superman etc., why not a Plogman? A Plogman can be seen actually bringing about positive change, in real-life, while the others are simply reel-life characters.

Great change starts with something very banal…like your act of picking up plastic bottles during the conference.Do you feel angry when you see how irresponsible people can be?

Every story has a beginning somewhere in time, no matter however banal it may have seemed then. But that is the Eureka moment which launches something more solid, durable and change-inducing over time, if one keeps at it. Anger? Yes, there are times when one wonders why and how people can be so irresponsible. But the way out is to keep being seen doing good, keep influencing those who can be influenced first, before those inconsiderate bystanders have no option but to join the ‘army’, or at least change their consumption habits.

Catch them young – G. Nagraj helping his daughter Avni plant a tree

Often, great thoughts never manifest as great acts. Sometimes they are expressed as words…but the precept is never practised. How did you go straight from thought to deed?

Actions have always spoken louder than words. Well-done is always better than well-said. We first do what needs to be done, and then create jingles, memes and posters to spread awareness (Sample this, presented with superstar Rajnikant in the backdrop – ‘Thalaiva spreads joy, Saliva spreads virus…stop spitting in public. Or this one targeted at kids – ‘Twinkle twinkle little star – single use nakoyaar!).It is the trash and what people see us doing with it that speaks to them! It is a virtuous cycle, and most effective when pursued the other way around – do, speak and then make others think (or rethink rather) and get to doing what you do.

Any financial support which may have come in from the public, governments or corporates? To diversify and involve more people and harness synergies?

We must say that support has been forthcoming all the while. Municipal authorities, for instance, are actually happy that we are contributing to mitigating their waste management burden and they do cooperate by providing us with vehicles during plogs to collect dry trash for safe disposal/reuse/recycling. Corporates, schools and colleges support us by volunteering along with us, on some of our plogs, and this builds up awareness and also keeps adding to the strength of the Indian Ploggers Army. Instead of seeking monetary support, we seek support in kind, provision of reusable bags to collect the trash for instance. I must add that several eco-groups in Bengaluru and other cities we have plogged in and collaborated with us. It is a joint responsibility we all need to undertake for Gaia, Mother Earth.

What you have initiated fits well into a Circular Economy which is the new paradigm in the West. Our country lags behind and is conspicuous by that fact. Your opinion?

Wherever we have plogged, we have seen that there is a lack of civic sense. This needs to be imbibed if one wishes to entrench a sustainable circular economy. Having said that, single-use disposables (paper cups and plates, plastic spoons and forks etc.) which are carelessly strewn around, have no place in such an economy. Recyclable food packaging waste accounts for a sizable proportion of the trash. There is often minimal awareness of the long-term damage they do to the environment. Problem shifting keeps happening in the environment – garbage cans to landfills to lakes and oceans. The Reuse and Recycle mentality must be imbibed, and then the higher ones in the hierarchy – Rethink, Refuse and Reduce.(To be hilighted) While we Remove, Respect and Rejoice, we try to inculcate the need for the other Rs in the minds of people. There are three possible responses we can expect from people:
a) they ignore and walk away
b) they become cautious, conscious and eco-friendly (if not eco-warriors) and try to become sustainable consumers
c) they join you and wish to contribute to do good and spread awareness, out of a sense of ‘belongingness’ to their respective cities, and ultimately to Mother Earth.

You now have the authority to stop a person who is littering and demand that he/she pick the litter up, and consign it to the designated container. Would you do that, or would you wait for people to just watch you and learn?

We do make it a point to go up to litterers and tell them that what they are doing is wrong. It is very rare that this approach does not make them realise their wrongdoing. They accept their faux pas, and sometimes defend themselves by stating that the behaviour is prompted by a paucity of dustbins in the area. But the fact that they know that we are picking up their trash, embarrasses them and sends across a clear signal – Trash may be yours or mine or his or hers or theirs, but Mother Nature we are defiling is ours!

You have not restricted yourself to Bengaluru but have expanded your footprint to other cities too. What is the response from other cities?

We have at this point of time plogged in 19 Indian cities – Pune and Mumbai in Maharashtra, Hubli, Bengaluru, Mangalore and Coorg in Karnataka, Tirumala, Tirupathi and Vizag in Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad in Telangana, Chennai, Madurai and Trichy in Tamil Nadu, Kurgaon in Rajasthan etc. I am also happy to mention here that some devoted and dedicated ‘plogmen’ have emerged in these cities too to spread awareness about waste segregation at source, reduction in the utilisation of single-use disposables, and the creation of a committed ‘army’ of ploggers – young and old alike –their actions speaking louder and louder over time.

What is your goal?

It is simple and straight. We will keep plogging till there is nothing left to be plogged. In fact, whenever we have a successful plog, it represents a system failure. If we fail in our plogs (in other words, do not come across any trash to pick), it is a sign of an efficient, well-oiled waste management system. We will keep connecting the ‘green dots’ and bridge the gap between need and greed. We want to fail completely as ploggers, within the next two decades. That is the goal for the future.

1Pioneered by Eric Ahlström in Stockholm. www.plogga.se

G. Venkatesh

G. Venkatesh is Associate Professor, Department of Engineering and Chemical Sciences, Faculty of Health, Science and Technology, Karlstad University, Sweden. He is also a freelance writer for several magazines around the world. The author has set up Varshita Venkatesh Girls’ Education Fund with Plan USA in memory of his wife and the Varshita Venkatesh Plogging Fund for The Indian Ploggers Army