City adopts Garfield Bionic Brains students’ idea

Photo by Ron Sundquist – Clovis council members with Garfield’s Bionic Brains students, from L-R, Nate Catillo, Upek Amarasinghe, Josef Bath, Sachini Kalkarni, Anaik Amarasinghe, Natasha Baker, Caleb Doherty and Lucas Donnelly.


By Valerie Shelton, Editor

Many people never set foot in their city’s council chambers, but a group of sixth graders and one fifth grader from Garfield Elementary School not only sat through two meetings, but got involved—proposing a new program to promote recycling and proper garbage disposal in the city.

These students, who are part of the Bionic Brains robotics team, first approached the city’s solid waste manager, Eric Zetz, last fall, pitching him their idea to have special stickers on each garbage, recycling and green waste can, showing residents where certain pieces of trash should go.

The idea was simple: just stick the recycling information the city already sends out with its utility bills on the trash bins.

John Bath, a parent and one of the Bionic Brains coaches, said students came up with the idea after canvassing their neighborhood and realizing that many residents still don’t know what goes where.

“They brainstormed several different ideas and this was one and they went with and they pulled people throughout the neighborhood and found that people didn’t know the ins and outs and where everything actually went and that made them realize this was a viable project,” Bath said. “They canvassed the neighborhood where we meet up to work on our projects and they also each had to poll 10 people on there own.”

Bath said what is impressive about the students is that they took the initiative to go to City Hall, not just once, but three times—once to meet with Zetz, once to present the project before the city council at a meeting in January, and a third time to discuss project changes with city staff. The kids came to the city a fourth and final time, on April 4, to witness a modified version of their project get approved by the council.

“The best part of the story is the kids came here, they presented it and it carried all the way out,” Bath said.

Nancy Donnelly, another parent, said the project went through a few tweaks. After presenting the project to the city council in January, the council directed staff to prepare a report and get further input from the Bionic Brains students.

“Initially, the idea was doing more of a hot imprint rather than a hot stamp,” Donnelly said. “The students wanted to do the imprint, which is actually more expensive, but then they found a way to do a hot stamp, which is more like a sticker so it is imprinted paint that is done with heat so it is permanent.”

The hot stamp will be placed on all new cans and replacement lids. The lids are the best place to put them, according to Zetz, because the summer sun beats down and damages the lids so they are frequently replaced.

Zetz said the city was unable to find much data on how effective the hot stamps might be, but other city’s have placed similar information on cans. The use of the hot stamps, he said, will add to the city’s recycling efforts.

“The use of the hot stamps will add to our recycling programs that we report to the state,” Zetz said. “We currently have 31 recycling programs that we report to the state and the majority of those are efforts made by Republic, Inc., our service provider. Together the hot stamp will go on the lid, which is the most commonly replaced in the City of Clovis…We had just over 400 lids replaced last years. The hot stamp takes a couple hundred dollars for a template and then 25 cents per hot stamp per lid so the money that we’re talking about is not significant for our budget and we expect this to cost in the neighborhood of $500 if we were to have the same amount of replacements as we did last year.”

Donnelly said she is proud of her son and the other seven students on the Bionic Brains team because they came up with a project that not only got approved by the city council, but that is similar to projects other large cities have done.

“San Francisco uses stickers and they just received a national award for waste diversion so this will do the same thing but actually be more efficient,” Donnelly said. “They started this project in October and came up with the idea independently without realizing that anybody else has used it and we found out after the fact that a few other places do this. I’m really proud of their concept because it turns out we mimicked one of the most successful programs in the nation and didn’t even realize we were doing it. That is pretty amazing for a bunch of sixth graders and one fifth grader.”

Bionic Brains student Josef Bath said the hot stamps on the lids will help remind people where certain items go and ultimately help with the city’s waste diversion efforts.

“I think this is a good idea because it will explain what goes in each can,” Josef said. “We didn’t know where batteries went and now we realize that batteries don’t go in any can, you can take them to the city and they will dispose of them for you. This really shows everyone what goes in each can and I think that will help the residents of Clovis.”