#Kindness1billion: Irvine student cares for the planet through ‘plogging’

Irvine middle school student Claire Chong picks up trash on her morning walk before school.
Jeffrey Trail Middle School student Claire Chong goes “plogging” before school. (Courtesy of Jeannie Chong)

At just 8 years old, Claire Chong participated in a group project that taught her about the impacts of environmental pollution. Ever since, she has been doing her part to make the world a better place, which includes cleaning up after others.

Now, the 12-year-old Jeffrey Trail Middle School student goes on frequent jogs to pick up trash in her community — otherwise known as “plogging.” This term refers to the activity of picking up litter while jogging or walking. The young environmental activist initially took an interest in plogging in 2020 and has now made it an important part of her weekly routine.

At the start of the pandemic, Claire and her parents began going for daily walks around their neighborhood. Once she noticed large amounts of trash on the sidewalks and in the bushes, she took it upon herself to work toward maintaining a waste-free environment.

Claire Chong and her mother, Jeannie Chong, clean up trash left on the sidewalk.
Claire and her mother, Jeannie Chong, clean up littered sidewalks together. (Courtesy of Jeannie Chong)

On most clean-up outings, Claire will collect one full bag of littered items. The Irvine seventh-grader said she will then separate the items she finds by landfill items, recyclables and cigarettes for proper disposal.

As part of her before-school ritual, Claire and her mother, Jeannie, visit local shopping areas to pick up trash for about 30 minutes each morning. Jeannie expressed how her daughter has led her to feel a sense of responsibility to care for the planet.

“We have studied together about pollution,” Jeannie said. “That’s just a little thing, but this is such a big thing for our family — good for everyone.” 

“Yeah, it keeps us together,” Claire said. 

After plogging, Claire and her mother document photos of their collected trash to post on Instagram, alongside brief messages of hope. Since creating her account in January of last year, Claire’s audience has grown to almost 600 followers. With each post, she wants to encourage others to care for their communities.

For the middle school student, environmental sustainability comes in many different forms. In addition to her passion for tidying up her neighborhood, Claire repurposes materials like plastic bags and old magazine pages into intricate artwork.

Similar to plogging, her art focuses on environmental consciousness and the beauty found in nature.

While Claire may see plogging as an easy activity to do, she’s also grateful that any action she takes will have an impact — big or small.

“At least I’m doing something that’ll maybe make a little piece of change for the environment,” Claire said. “It might not change as quick, but at least something is going to change at some point. If I keep doing it, maybe more people will get inspired.”

To learn more about Claire’s daily plogging journey, check out her Instagram account, @plogger_usa.

We’re continuing to feature stories here as part of OCDE’s One Billion Acts of Kindness initiative. Be sure to submit yours at kindness1billion.org, and you can also share your good deeds on social media using the hashtag #kindness1billion.