Meet the people keeping fit while caring for the environment

Daniel Campos Putterman has combined his love of long-distance running with collecting trash in the Nitzanim Dunes Nature Reserve, and has enlisted the help of fitness coach Abdul Abdul to do so.

 ABDUL RUNS with Emmanuelle Avrahami (center) and Marian Awad, Israeli National Women’s Soccer Team players – pulling sand sleds they will fill with garbage as part of their workout, as Ran Shneck films them for an Environmental Fitness video (photo credit: Courtesy)
ABDUL RUNS with Emmanuelle Avrahami (center) and Marian Awad, Israeli National Women’s Soccer Team players – pulling sand sleds they will fill with garbage as part of their workout, as Ran Shneck films them for an Environmental Fitness video
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Exercising in a gym is good, said Costa Rican-Israeli Daniel Campos Putterman. But even better is exercising outside – while picking up trash. And his public benefit company, Environmental Fitness, has launched a social media campaign to make collecting litter just as cool as Cross Fit.

Putterman, 35, has combined his love of long-distance running with collecting trash in the Nitzanim Dunes Nature Reserve between Ashkelon and Ashdod, where he lives. He has enlisted well-known Israeli athletes in his campaign. He has also teamed up with Abdul Abdul, 24, who came from Sudan as a refugee with his family when he was ten. Abdul recently graduated with a degree in physical fitness from the Wingate Institute and now works as a personal fitness coach in central Israel.

“Daniel and I come from different sides of the earth,” Abdul said in a recent phone interview. “But we both want to develop fitness workouts while helping Israeli beaches and protecting the environment.”

Not everyone who is passionate about fitness is “automatically passionate about the environment.” Yet, Putterman and Abdul believe that their workout methods can encourage both professional and recreational athletes to use different muscles while “doing something for Mother Nature.”

Some people might find it depressing to clean the same place every week, Putterman said, “Yet the adrenaline I get from mixing cleaning with exercise keeps me going.”

In Ashdod, Putterman said that volunteers on the beach who jog and pick up trash, sometimes called ploggers (combining the Swedish verbs plocka upp, pick up and jogga, jog), have to contend with garbage that washes in from the Gaza Strip but also local trash, including single-use grills, beer bottles and used diapers.

“It can be like the task of Sisyphus,” Putterman admitted. However, paraphrasing Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus, “only when we acknowledge the absurd can we overcome it, and find some kind of happiness.”

Putterman was excited to share the fact that simple cleaning tasks, such as using a rake, help build upper-body strength, as well as core strength in the back and stomach. In the #EnvironmentalFitness Instagram account and on YouTube, there are videos with ideas and tools to blend fitness with environmental action.

To boost awareness about its fitness-plus-clean-up campaign, Environmental Fitness will soon sponsor a unique athletic competition between Ethiopian-born Israeli Olympic marathon runner Girmaw Amare and a Judoka champion (whose name has yet to be announced) to see who can pick up the most trash in two hours. The contestants will be judged on a point system based on weight, volume and who has found the most interesting item.

“Trash pick-up is a treasure hunt,” Putterman said with enthusiasm.

THE TRILINGUAL father of two grew up in Heredia, a small mountain town in Costa Rica. His Jewish mother was from Great Neck, New York; his father “is a philo-Semite like Churchill” who sent him to stay in Kibbutz Baram. Putterman loved being in Israel and made aliyah in 2007. After his military service, he attended Reichman University (IDC Herzliya) and graduated in 2013 with a degree in communications. He worked as a journalist for I24NEWS and now works at Armoza Formats, selling Israeli television shows to Latin America.

People think he’s crazy for moving to Israel but Putterman said that “Israel challenges me because it’s so intense. It puts us into situations of pressure where we can either be at our best or our worst.”

Putterman got the idea for starting Environmental Fitness during runs in the Nitzanim Reserve; he saw all the trash and couldn’t just run by it. During his workouts he brings a sand sled to haul the trash (“a great upper body workout”); also good for aerobic endurance. He explained that people don’t have to join a public campaign or travel far to volunteer to clean up.

“You should be territorial,” he said. “Make yourself the custodian of a specific area and focus on that.”

 DOING his ‘badass workout’: Daniel Campos Putterman, Environmental Fitness co-founder, hauls a bag of trash in the Nitzanim Sand Dune Nature Reserve.  (credit: RAN SHNECK) DOING his ‘badass workout’: Daniel Campos Putterman, Environmental Fitness co-founder, hauls a bag of trash in the Nitzanim Sand Dune Nature Reserve. (credit: RAN SHNECK)

Putterman has taken on Nitzanim Sand Dune Nature Reserve, which is 20,000 square dunams (about 5,000 acres) and tries to run three times a week in the area. He encourages other runners, cyclists and walkers to use their cellphones to report on the destruction of fences that protect national parks, to be aware of hunting dogs (used to hunt deer, an endangered species in Israel) and to volunteer to collect garbage from areas that are difficult to access by car. He is surprised by the fact that most volunteer garbage collectors are retirees.

“Where are the young people?” he asked. He recalled the time he saw someone photographing a man proposing to a young woman in a park. The photographer “simply ignored the trash.”

“It’s a big lie,” he said. “Young people take photos of themselves and manage to block out the cans of energy drink and garbage. How come schools are not educating youth about litter?”

There are other environmentally-conscious groups who inspire him, including an organization, Repair the Sea, that organized a tashlich hafooch, (reverse tashlich). Instead of throwing bread into water on Rosh Hashanah, a symbolic custom to cast away one’s sins, the group organized people on beaches around Israel to pick up litter.

Noted Putterman: “We need to use our athleticism and energy to make a difference.” 

For more information: www.facebook.com/environmentalfitness101