Bayside ‘plogger’ combines outdoor exercise with trash pickups

John Cheng is spending his retirement plogging to stay healthy and keep his neighborhood clean.
Photo courtesy of Bayside Ploggers

Across the city, volunteer groups gather locals for park clean up events where dozens of bags are filled with trash and then disposed of after just a couple of hours.

But one Bayside resident is advocating for picking up trash during outdoor exercise on a more regular basis, not just during events, to keep neighborhoods clean and stay healthy. 

Plogging, a term used to describe picking up litter while jogging or walking, is what John Cheng has taken up during his retirement. After dedicating 22 years to the NYPD, he found himself with plenty of time to spend outdoors in parks throughout Queens during retirement. 

“You and I can do something about it,” said Cheng, who will also clean up trash along his street when he sees a bin get toppled over from the wind. “You don’t have to wait for somebody else.”

Cheng also encourages picking up trash along streets, not just parks. Photo courtesy of Bayside Ploggers

During one visit to Kissena Park in Flushing several years ago, he met some volunteers part of Kissena Synergy who were picking up trash near the velodrome. He asked how he could get involved and began volunteering with the group several times a week. But it got him thinking of all the trash in parks and streets closer to home. 

“It’s always bothered me. So I said, why not do this in my own neighborhood,” he recalled. 

Now a couple times a week, he’ll bring his trash picker on his regular walks and pick up trash in Little Bay and Fort Totten Park. But on his way there, he’ll also collect trash along corridors such as Bell Boulevard, Francis Lewis Boulevard and Utopia Parkway before dropping it off at the nearest trash can.

He says that plogging is a combination of his love of exercising, spending time with loved ones and keeping the neighborhood clean. It led him to create the Facebook group, Bayside Ploggers, where he shares how much trash he picked up alongside the exercise he got in during the process. But he says he’s not interested in turning the activity into a group event. 

“My whole point is just to encourage you to do it individually, and not necessarily wait till the next month when there’s an event that may or may not get canceled due to weather,” Cheng noted. 

Some areas need regular attention that park staff cannot keep up with. He says that parks like Little Bay Park, are prone to litter due to the influx of people visiting from outside the neighborhood. He added that after a Friday or Saturday night, when youth congregate in the parking lots, it’s like a “third world country” with the amount of trash left behind.

But he says the litterers should only get half the blame, and natural causes play a role. 

On windy days, trash from toppled over bins on residential streets and overfilled trash cans in parks gets blown around. Critters, such as crows and racoons, also get into trash and contribute to the spread. 

“It’s a recurring problem. We all have to just keep at it,” he said.

In a five mile loop around Bayside down Utopia Parkway, Cheng says he can easily collect a couple contractor size bags of trash. And on any given day, you can collect another couple of bags by the jetty rocks in Little Bay Park, where the current continuously drags in more trash to shore. 

During a cleanup of Little Bay Park, volunteers collected enough trash to fill dozens of bags. Photo courtesy of Bayside Ploggers

But there is power in bringing people together for joint cleanups. During one cleanup day this March, in conjunction with another group of volunteers, they collected 50 bags of trash from Little Bay Park. But smaller actions of kindness on a regular basis have their power too. 

“Anybody can do this and I encourage you to go out there and get some sun get some exercise and pick up some trash,” Cheng said. “I’m not looking to start a revolution or anything. As long as there’s something better than before.”