Competitive Litter Picking for the Generation of Tomorrow

SPOGOMI, or competitive litter-picking—a sport practiced throughout Japan and abroad that is open to all—is garnering attention as a way to raise awareness of environmental issues.
Almost 100 kilograms of litter are collected every year through the SPOGOMI Competition in Minato.

SPOGOMI, the Latest Craze from Japan

SPOGOMI, invented in Japan in 2008 by the Social Sports Initiative, turns the act of picking up litter into a sport. On November 22, 2023, the final round of the very first SPOGOMI World Cup was held in Shibuya. Teams that had won the preliminaries in their respective countries came together to battle it out in the Japanese capital.

Ten days after the SPOGOMI World Cup, a local version of the competition was held in Shimbashi—known as both a business district and a bustling downtown area in Minato City, Tokyo, with restaurant after restaurant lining its streets. On December 2, 2023, despite being a Saturday morning, Shimbashi's SL Plaza was a flurry of action, full of people holding trash bags—participants in the SPOGOMI Competition in Minato.

In charge of this local competition, and serving as host for the 10th time, was the Minato Eco-Conscious Consortium (MECC), an association of Minato City businesses with an interest in environmental issues and the SDGs.

Turning Litter into Points

Each team in the SPOGOMI Competition in Minato comprises three to five members. Despite only 20 teams being called for, this year 23 showed up, making a total of 110 participants, of a wide range of ages. Many were also repeat participants who, having enjoyed their experience competing the previous year, decided to take up the gauntlet once again.

The competition area centers on SL Plaza and radiates out over roughly a kilometer. The participants have one hour to complete their task, and at the end of the competition, the collected litter is sorted, and points are awarded to determine the rankings.

Weighing the litter collected by each team after time is called.

Points are awarded based on the type and amount of litter. Burnable garbage, which is fairly easy to find, equals one point for every 100 grams. Plastic bottles are a point each, while cigarette butts are 100 points for every 100 grams.

SL Plaza has served as the competition venue since SPOGOMI was first organized by the MECC. Takaki Nobuaki of the MECC secretariat says, "We hold the competition here, where there are lots of people out and about, with the support of Minato City, because we want to raise awareness of environmental issues among not only the participants, but also passersby, tourists, and many others as well. Shimbashi gets very busy on Friday nights, so there's always more trash than usual the next day. That's why we do the event on a Saturday morning."

Kids, with their lower vantage points, are very good at finding cigarette butts.

Raising New Environmentalists

At the December 2 event, in just an hour, 91.26 kilograms of litter were collected, disappearing off of the streets of Shimbashi. After the event, participants said, "There were more cigarette butts than I expected," and "There were broken pots on the side of the road. That was a surprise."

Kids are given snacks as a participation reward, regardless of the position their teams achieve in the rankings. This is because the MECC believes that it is worthwhile raising environmental awareness among the next generation.

"Those who participate in the competitions will realize how hard it is to pick up litter, and will stop littering themselves. Our hope is that this experience will make more people aware of environmental issues," says Takaki.

The SPOGOMI Competition, an event that aims to make the world a better place for the next generation, is sure to see even more avid participants, next year and in the years beyond.

Interview and writing by Onodera Fukumi
Photos by Kaneko Satoshi
Translation by Amitt