Home to endangered marine turtles that come to its shores to lay their eggs, Ghana has a rich fauna and flora. Plastic Punch wants it to stay that way.
Plastic Punch cleverly harnesses edutainment and art to affect behaviour change, with fun beach clean-ups, apps, mask-making and even a drama series. The ambitious and imaginative project to clean the coasts of Ghana started with five dead turtles.
Did you know that marine turtles go back to nest where they were born? A turtle born on a Ghanaian beach might live somewhere in the Pacific, but once it reaches its reproductive age, it will swim the thousand kilometres back to Ghana to nest. On that long journey, it will come across various obstacles, such as fishermen trying to catch it or pieces of plastic that it might confuse with food.
Plastic Punch was created in response to a turtle monitoring session during which five dead turtles out of six were discovered on the plastic-infested beach of New Ningo on the Atlantic coast of Ghana.
Based in Accra, Plastic Punch was founded in 2018 by Richmond ‘Legacy’ Kennedy Quarcoo (aka the “Plastic Man’ pictured below) and Noemie Simon with a team of seven professionals from Ghana, France and Spain. The small NGO gives plastic the one-two punch by raising awareness of its dangers to the environment, marine life and humans – as well as providing sustainable waste management solutions and innovative income generating alternatives for Ghana and beyond.
Legacy is a trained Merchant Navy Officer, media consultant and event organiser. He told us that Ghana currently disposes of waste by dumping it on landfills, beaches and in the oceans. “Recycling facilities exist, but are either not used or just can’t cope with the amount of waste produced by the country in a sustainable way.”
With Plastic Punch, he organises beach clean-ups on turtle nesting beaches to provide communities and local children with a powerful educational and awareness opportunity, by bringing people in contact with the problem. They’re getting impressive turns outs with hundreds of volunteers from students to Embassy representatives to humanitarian model Victoria Michaels.
Trash is collected, categorised and weighed at the beach, with plastic waste either turned into bricks for use in road construction or shredded to produce textiles by local recycling partners.
To get an idea of scale, on a beach cleanup on 25 May 2019, four tonnes of waste were collected by 200 volunteers within four hours, including 210,600 plastic bottles.
The NGO also participates in marine turtle conservation activities including turtle monitoring and anti-poaching patrols. Its Plastic Punch Sea Turtle data app encourages sea turtle data collection and promotes citizen science. Set on an island with a plastic infested beach where turtles need to nest, the digital game encourages sanitation practices in an interactive way. “The player embodies a ‘Plastic Puncher’ who is responsible for sanitation and beach clean-ups on the island to secure the turtle nesting space,” Legacy explains.
The team have also created art exhibitions, short videos and theatre concepts based on sanitation and waste management practices – such as the Plastic Punch Drama and Plastic Punch Series, written with and performed by Village Minds Production and Calabash Farms, Ghanaian theatre companies that use performing arts as a tool for social intervention and change.
Legacy told us that 2020 was a busy year for the team: “During the outbreak of the COVID19 pandemic, we designed a community response strategy supported by the European Union in Ghana. We dubbed it #PunchCorona and distributed locally-made reusable masks designed by Plastic Punch, contactless hand washing stations and public awareness creations on preventive protocols and how to make your own mask.”
The Punch Corona response focused its efforts on protecting essential service providers like environmental and sanitation workers, fisherfolks and market women and the general public to reduce the spread of the virus whilst observing social distancing “Thanks to a team of courageous volunteers (‘Corona Punchers’), twelve contactless community hand washing stations were distributed to hospitals and clinics in Greater Accra and 400 gloves, 8 hand washing Veronika Buckets and 7,000 reusable face masks were distributed to markets, communities, sanitation workers and hospitals.
The colourful campaign was a success on social media, which gave a lot of visibility to the European Union and to Plastic Punch. “The joint collaboration was crucial for the impact of the campaign. The Plastic Punch team believes this intervention made a significant impact in the lives of beneficiaries in reducing/preventing the spread of the novel COVID19 virus.”
Meanwhile, art workshops with local artists are integrated into the beach cleanups and awareness seminars, including repurposing and upcycling materials gathered at the beach. #Maskbook is an international, collective work of art that raises awareness about the link between health, air pollution and climate change, using the mask as a symbol.
The team sees the pandemic as an opportunity to improve our world, as it showed the clear link between the protection of wildlife and health, as well as creating less unnecessary travel, more local consumption and support of local products.“The pandemic gives people globally the opportunity and time to think about their behaviour and the ability to drastically change habits.”
Sadly the outbreak has also seen a significant increase in demand for plastics with single-use masks and packaging for food and goods deliveries. “The aftermath is visible pollution on the streets and on beaches.”
Thanks to a strong team of circular economy experts and its network of collaborators and supporters, Plastic Punch is now recognised as a stakeholder in the sector of plastic waste management in Ghana. It’s next move is to build hatcheries for sea turtle data collection, expand into West Africa, and research alternative biodegradable packaging solutions made of coconut, hemp or other plant-based fibres.
Legacy adds: “Cleaning up the oceans is fundamental, but it cannot be the main strategy to deal with the problem of rubbish ending up in our seas. The problem needs to be tackled at its source, on land in homes.”
AtlasAction: Be a plastic hero: reduce, reuse, refuse, recycle! There are lots of ways to support Plastic Punch: join beach clean-ups, be part of the citizen science initiatives, donate, share campaigns and help spread the word by sharing this article.
Richmond Kennedy Quarcoo and Noemie Simon, co-founders
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