By Tom Holmes
Etta Worthington likes to multitask. The Forest Parker is working on some screen plays, runs an Airbnb, helps her daughter Ashley with her catering business, sends out weekly action items for her Western Front Resist advocacy group and has taught at the college level. But Worthington's latest venture into doing more than one task at the same time is called plalking.
"A week or so ago two of us were picking up litter along a street in town and putting it in plastic grocery bags when two grade school age girls looked at us as if to say, 'What are these silly old ladies doing?'" Worthington said. "So I told them that we're plalking, i.e. Picking up Litter while Walking."
When the girls asked if we were being paid to do it, Worthington smiled and replied, "No, we're doing this because we want to. It's good exercise and it helps the community."
According to an online site called Tree Hugger, what is becoming something of an international movement began in Sweden as plogging, or Picking up Litter while Jogging. When Worthington's daughter Ashley suggested that mother and daughter try plogging last April, they became frustrated because they were stopping so often to pick up trash that they didn't do much actual jogging. Worthington kept track on one outing and found she stopped to pick up litter 25 times in just one block. The duo soon transitioned to plalking.
Now there are nine plalkers in Forest Park. Worthington dreams of holding a monthly event where a large group of residents get together and radiate over parts of the village, like they did on Earth Day. Prospective plalkers should visit the "Forest Park Plalking Group" page on Facebook.
When she goes on her weekly plalk, Worthington often calls up another plalker like Skye Lavin, who works as manager of adult services at the Forest Park Public Library. They pick up a used plastic grocery bag, put on gloves and set out. When the bag is full, they dump the contents in one of the public waste receptacles around town and continue.
Lavin laughed and said that so far they haven't found anything valuable—only things like empty liquor bottles, fast food wrappers, cigarette butts, straws, empty Starbucks cups. . . . Worthington said the two of them once found a full beer bottle and decided to leave it "for someone who needs it."
As that remark reveals, Worthington takes her advocacy work seriously but not herself.
"My approach to activism," she explained, "is very positive. We're doing good things and I'm going to have fun doing it."
In that regard, she suggested that plalking can be a fun family event. She imagined parents and kids going out and having fun seeing who can pick up the most trash or who finds the most interesting litter.
Not only does Worthington multitask by simultaneously walking and picking up litter, she sees the outings as also a time to build relationships or plan advocacy meetings.
"I get a little exercise, do something good for the earth and also have time to share stories," she said, adding: "Relationship building is important. Skye and I talk about our similar upbringings while we plalk. I think that storytelling is an important part of society that maybe we leave to emojis too often."