Friends walking and picking up trash in the city
Friends walking and picking up trash in the city

If you love to spend time in nature, then you’ve probably seen trash in nature. Cigarette butts and plastic bags on your morning stroll? Unfortunately, a familiar sight. Discarded trail-bar wrappers disrupting your backcountry zen? Sadly, not uncommon. It seems like wherever there are people, there’s litter.

But don’t get discouraged just yet! Here at KEEN we’re embracing a new hobby that combines getting outside and cleaning up the Earth. It’s called plalking. Yep, you read that right. Plalking (say it with us now, “plah-king”) is the act of picking up litter while walking. And while you might not find this word in your dictionary (yet), it’s actually a growing movement.

So lace up your shoes and come take a plalk with us.

KEEN employees picking up trash together on Earth Day

A Short History of Plalking

Plalking is a spinoff of plogging — a fitness craze first introduced by Swedish outdoor buff Erik Ahlström in 2016. The word plogging is a combination of the Swedish verbs jogga (to jog) and plocka upp (to pick up), and it means to pick up litter while jogging. Now, Ahlström certainly isn’t the first person to ever do this, but he did give the action a name. And since then, it has taken off. Seriously, just type #plogging into Instagram, and you’ll see what we mean. Thousands of joggers around the world are running with trash bags in hand, starting plogging groups, and cleaning up city streets.

So what if you’re not a runner? Well, that’s where plalking comes in. It’s the same concept as plogging, but it’s for those of us who love to walk. And if you’re thinking “Okay, what’s the big deal? I’ve been stuffing trash into my daypack for twenty years.” Well, now there’s a word for it!

KEEN tip: Think about all the other activities that could incorporate litter cleanup. Why not turn biking into pliking or kayaking into playaking? The opportunities are endless!

The Many Benefits of Plalking

Plalking is good for the Earth

• It helps keep streets and trails clean. Outside is for everyone — that means humans, insects, black bears, ferns, trees, and every other living organism that calls the Earth their home. Removing trash keeps shared spaces beautiful and safe. It also saves costs for organizations that shoulder the burden of cleanup.

• It reduces ecological impact on the outdoors. Maybe you’re thinking, “Sure, trash shouldn’t be in nature, but does it really do that much good to relocate this stuff to landfills?” The answer to that question is a resounding yes! Litter left in nature has numerous negative impacts: it can be dangerous to both humans and wildlife; it contains toxic substances that can contaminate water and soil; it’s often swept into our oceans; and it can become a breeding ground for disease. Long story, short? Trash is best left in the rubbish or recycling bin.

A plastic bottle picked up on a beach

Plalking is good for you

• It adds variety to your exercise. You can think of plalking as walking, plus squatting and stretching. It’s a nice way to add some core and quad work to the linear motion of walking. And if your trash bag gets full — well, now you’re also carrying weights.

• It’s a good reason to get outside. When motivation for your daily walk is in short supply, plalking can be the nudge you need. It’s easier to take that screen break and step out the front door knowing your walk is part of a larger mission to keep the Earth clean.

• It feels good to do good. The great outdoors give us so much: like fresh air, clean water, and beauty. Considering all of the ways we benefit, it feels so good to give something back.

Tips for Going Plalking

Overhead shot of someone picking up litter with a KEEN bag and grabber tool
We love repurposing plastic mailers, and they're handy for everyday plalks.

Get your gear right. Are you concerned that picking up other people’s trash might be, well, gross? We totally get that. That’s why it helps to head out with the right gear. We recommend bringing along a pair of reusable gloves and a reusable canvas or heavy-duty plastic bag. If that still doesn’t feel comfortable, carry a grabber tool with you.

Make it part of your daily routine. The really cool thing about plalking is that you can do it anywhere. Take a bag with you on your morning commute or evening dog walk, and voila, it’s a plalking adventure! (We like to reuse plastic soil bags or mailers for even more of a win-win.) And if you already have a hike planned, just tuck a pair of gloves in your daypack, and make it a plike!

Organize a group adventure. Here’s a fun idea — start a plalk squad. Plan a trip to the beach with your friends or family, and see how much litter a whole group of you can collect. This is also a wonderful activity to do with kids, because it gives them something to focus on and makes walking less monotonous. You might be surprised how litter pickup can start to feel like a fun scavenger hunt. “Hey, look what I found!”

Build a connection to the places you plalk. Many of us move through the world very quickly. Our neighborhoods become the backdrop for our daily chaos, and the trails we roam are gateways to beautiful views. When you’re out plalking, appreciate the opportunity to disrupt your momentum. Every time you stop, bend, and pick up litter, you have the chance to slow your roll and build deeper connections with the paths that you walk.

Wear comfortable shoes. Walking is key here, so it’s important to keep your feet happy. If you’re headed to the trails for some backcountry plalking, consider a pair of lightweight shoes with plenty of support, like our Wasatch Crest hiking shoes. If you’re plalking closer to home, a casual pair like our women’s Elsa V sneakers or men’s Howser Harvest sandals should do the trick (plus they're made with upcycled industrial waste).

Know how to handle litter safely. When you plalk, you might find litter of the hazardous variety, like broken glass or sharp metal. While it’s important to remove this stuff, it’s just as important to know how to do it safely. Make sure you’re equipped with gloves or a grabber tool and know how to properly dispose of sharps. If you come across something you don’t feel comfortable removing, find out who you can call to report hazardous materials to.

Remember, not all trash is created equal. Glass bottles, chip bags, coffee cups, etc. There’s a wide variety of trash that ends up on city streets, ocean beaches, and remote trails. Sort out your haul into trash and recycling when you get home to make your efforts go even further.

Feeling inspired to go #plalking? Remember to share your adventures with us by tagging @KEEN. Together, we can beautify the wild places we share.

A kid picking up litter with his dad

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