Volunteers and Ralf Hardenberg (far right) with some of the collected plastic waste.

By Dr Ralf Hardenberg, a member of the Rotary Club of Nuremberg-Connect, Germany

As a just-retired physician, I was excited to volunteer for a medical project at a hospital in Nkawkaw, Ghana. While I was there, I saw plastic everywhere. Thousands of black disposable plastic bags, small plastic water sachets, plastic bottles – even littering the hospital grounds. As a member of the Rotary Club of Nuremberg-Connect, which is involved in the EndPlasticSoup initiative, I am an ambassador for the initiative. I really wanted to change the situation.

EndPlasticSoup is a global initiative supported by thousands of Rotary members and hundreds of Rotary, Rotaract, and Interact clubs around the world. Plastic never goes away. It just gets smaller. Microplastics pose a threat to human health, biodiversity, and the climate. Through the initiative, clubs are working together to address and prevent the full-cycle problem of plastic pollution.

Volunteers bag up the plastic waste during an hour of cleanup on the hospital grounds.

Plastic has been a problem in Ghana since the 1980s. Plastics have begun to dominate not only the landscape, but also villages and towns. They clog sewers and cause flooding before being washed into rivers, lakes and the sea.

When I learned about the problems this waste was causing in nature, I suggested that we start a cleanup competition. EndPlasticSoup supported this idea. Holy Family Hospital is a former mission hospital that includes St. Michaels Church and convent. Everyone wanted to take part, including the Reverend, maintenance staff, the sisters, and nuns from the convent. We bought T-shirts with the EndPlasticSoup logo. Everyone looked great in the T-shirts and red gloves.

Then off they went, into the bushes and everywhere. The biggest success was in the nuns’ garden. In total, 15.9 kilograms of pure plastic was collected, not including bottles. The collected plastic was carefully weighed and documented. After about an hour of collecting waste, the hospital grounds were clean.

The winners of the cleanup competition were awarded certificates and other prizes. The plastic was carefully packed up, and a company was contacted to purchase the material for recycling. At the big farewell party before I left Ghana, they promised to carry out regular cleanup events – next time including the hospital’s immediate surroundings as well. The movement aims to influence the city of Nkawkaw as a whole.

Learn more about EndPlasticSoup and Rotary’s environmental area of focus.