Ziggy the rabbit makes a break for it as Crystal Coyne, Mason DeFazio, Jacob Cheung, and Vanessa Bilsborough look on. Their prototype bee hydration flower is at far right. VOICE PHOTO

Nurdles combine projects, save bees


The Fonthill Nurdles, a local group of teenage scientist/entrepreneurs, are collecting used gift cards again. The Nurdles formed as a group two years ago at a First Lego League science and technology challenge, where the objective was to design a project to reduce trash. At the time, the group’s members had been learning in school about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive collection of debris in the ocean extending from the west coast of North America to Japan. During their research, they also discovered that 75 million pounds of gift cards go to landfills each year. The size of gift cards means that they easily jam in the regular recycling process, and there are very few facilities in North America that recycle them.

The Nurdles’ idea, for which they won first prize in the Niagara competition, was to place collection boxes for gift cards at various locations, and then collect the cards and ship them off to be properly recycled.

In just a few months in 2015, the Nurdles collected over one hundred pounds at Tim Horton’s, Sobeys, and the Seaway Mall.

“Then we spoke to the Pen Centre, and convinced the mall’s parent company to put gift card collection boxes in all of its malls across Canada,” says Crystal Coyne, a ninth grader and one of the group’s members.

The Nurdles were named after nurdles, the small bits of plastic that are used in the production of plastic products.

“We also just like the way the word sounds,” says Vanessa Bilsborough, another member. “It sort of sounds like a combination of ‘nerd’ and ‘turtle.’”

With this in mind, the Nurdles adopted a turtle as their logo. The shirts they wear in competitions are neon green emblazoned with a turtle carrying a globe on its back. The turtle logo is also on the fake glasses they wear—3D ones from the movies, with the lenses popped out—during competitions, too.

Last year, the First Lego League’s competition theme was “Animal Allies,” in which teams were required to investigate human-animal interactions and find one to improve.

“We started to look at bees,” says Mason DeFazio. “Bees are very important to all plant life, and they’ve been dying at a very high rate.”

A typical mortality rate for bee populations is five to ten percent, but in Ontario, over the past 12 years, this rate has been 34 percent.

“Seventy percent of the dead bees test positive for agricultural pesticides,” says Coyne. She explains that bees require an immense amount of water to keep the hive operational—each bee drinks it weight in the stuff everyday. But because so many water sources are contaminated, bees will often harm themselves by drinking this much.

“They even like the contaminated water better, because they can get high off of it,” says Tracie Coyne, Crystal’s mother and one of the group’s coaches.

To try and develop a clean water source for bees, the Nurdles decided to build a small fountain that could fit in a plastic flower. Keeping the flower clean with ever-running water was of great importance, since stagnant water could lead to mosquito larvae or black mould. The Nurdles made a series of prototype flowers using a three-dimensional printer, trying to find a perfect medium.

“The flower has to be big enough to hold water, but if the water gets to be too deep, then the bees can drown,” says Jacob Cheung, who is in Grade 10. After finally building a functional model, the Nurdles realized that using a 3-D printer to build them would be impractical. After speaking to a number of experts, they decided that it would be easier to cast the flowers with silicon molds made from the original.

“And then it just clicked,” says Bilsborough. “We realized that we could combine our two projects and use the gift cards to help make the flowers.”

Recently, the Nurdles have again begun collecting gift cards, and in just a month gathered another hundred pounds’ worth. After collecting them, the Nurdles grind up the gift cards in a paper shredder and add them to a plastic mix. 40 percent of the molded flowers are made up of gift cards.

“We have two patents for the process,” says Coyne. “One for Canada and one for the US.”

The flowers are for sale locally at various garden centres, including Bloomin’ Crazy on Highway 20.

“They’re for sale at a place in Michigan too,” says Coyne, “And my grandma is trying to find a place in Florida.”

The flowers retail for $40, and Bilsborough says that the current goal to recoup the start-up costs, which were between three and four thousand dollars.

“We’re working on a business plan now,” she says. “That’s mostly what we spend our weekly meetings doing.”

Now that the bees have gone into their winter hibernation, the Nurdles say that their big concern is the number of gift cards still being thrown out. With help from Fonthill Sobeys and four local Tim Horton’s locations (three on Hwy 20 and one by the Seaway Mall) the Nurdles are collecting gift cards through the end of January. The Nurdles ask that you bring your used gift cards to these locations, where collection boxes are located and emptied weekly.