Ask Me About Plalking

CC BY-SA 2.0. Bryan Hughes

My husband and I enjoy an outing together, almost every day. But nowadays, we are not walking anymore. We're plalking. It's great for health and the conscience.

What is Plalking?

There is a Swedish custom called "plogging"—a portmanteau of the Swedish word plogga for "pick" and the international term "jogging"—that entails picking up litter while out on a run. Since we wouldn't want walkers to miss out on the fun, let's talk plalking. The term stems from Picking Litter while WALKING.

Why are you Plalking?

Well, it's good of you to ask. I am sure you didn't leave this litter here. But as we walk through the green spaces in Berlin, it is astounding to find that people come out to spend time in nature and then leave litter behind. And you might expect the streets of the city to be pristine, since there is a public trash can on every corner in Berlin. You would be disappointed. Hopefully cleaning up will discourage copy-cats and clean will stay clean. And at least what we collect won't make it into the rivers and out to the seas.

Some say we need to stop litter at the top of the supply chain, by reducing the disposables. But that may take a while, so come on: don't drop that stuff on the ground in the meantime.

Cleaning Up is Nice, But Are There Other Benefits to Plalking?

Especially if you are getting along a bit in years, plalking will really help keep you fit. Stretching down or squatting to pick up litter moves the body through a range of motions that help muscles stay flexible and train balance. Try picking each piece of litter up with a slightly different stretch.

Sure, if there were no litter we could be recommending yoga-walking or some other cross-training to blend the active movement with the meditative stretching. We'll keep hoping for that day to arrive.

What do You Find When Plalking?

Somehow it seems easier to forgive those who abandon their beer bottles—most of those have a deposit and will get picked up by people collecting the change. And you kind of expect that the people who enjoyed that champagne picnic might "forget" to pack their bottles out. Maybe people reckon the glass is "natural" so leaving it behind is OK, somehow ignoring the embodied energy that can be saved by recycling glass as well as the eye-sore effect for those coming out after them.

The litter that breaks one's faith in humankind is the energy gel tubes, sold in stores designed for people who are supposed to appreciate the great outdoors. And those little drink bags you poke a straw into should be illegal—or maybe have a stern pair of eyes printed on every bag, because research shows that the subconscious sense of being watched prevents litter.

Are There Drawbacks to Plalking?

You might want a thick pair of gloves or a picker-upper tool, because some of the litter can be a bit nasty. We don't tidy up the areas that clearly served as ersatz toilets. I surely hope people at least have the sense to bring biodegradable paper with them into the woods.

One champagne bottle we collected emanated a skunk-like smell. There are no skunks in Germany though. We decided the strange artifact might have attracted the attention of a male boar, which decided to mark it as part of his territory to make it less of a foreign object.

Let Me Ask Back: Are you Plalking Too?

If you are plalking, share your experiences in the comments. Or if you don't mind living out your every minute on the internet, you can enter your pick-ups in the app Litterati, which allows ploggers and plalkers to feed a huge database of what kinds of litter are found and where.

Perhaps some day, enough people will be picking up that no one will be so bold as to litter any more, and tracking apps will pin down the sources of litter so the problem can be tackled top-down as well as bottom up. Until then, hope to see you plalking! We should all get a button that says "Ask me about plalking" to spread the trend.