An award-winning recycling project in Westerly, Rhode Island, has been collecting more than 36,000 gallons of waste cooking oil a year. By converting the grease into heating fuel, or biodiesel, the project is bringing an estimated value of US $ 60,000 of alternative energy to needy families in the local community.
The initiative began in 2008 when the now 13-year-old Cassandra Lin set out to improve the sustainability problems in her local community. Inspired by a project she saw at an environmental expo in the University of Rhode Island, in which used cooking oil was refined into biodiesel as a source of alternative energy, Lin launched the Turn Grease into Fuel (TGIF) recycling programme. (Biodiesel is formed from a reaction between vegetable oil and an alcohol like methanol.)
TGIF encourages residents and restaurants to bring their used-cooking oil to the town transfer station to be recycled. TGIF’s partner, Grease Co., then collects and delivers the grease to a biodiesel refiner which processes it into biodiesel fuel.
Thanks to TGIF, used cooking oil has now become a money-spinning product, generating green energy solutions and green jobs. Lin is proud of the success of TGIF, “especially when I could show that my project has helped people and the environment at the same time,” she says.
Indeed, the success rate of the grease project is impressive; more than 120,000 litres of biodiesel will be generated each year, offsetting 250 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Lin hopes over the next few years other youth can help the project to expand across the United States.
The innovative teenager and her team of five seventh-graders have also influenced environmental legislation, persuading the local council to place a grease receptacle at the transfer station where residents donate their used cooking oil. And because of the TGIF project, Rhode Island now mandates that all businesses which consume cooking oil have to recycle the grease.
Lin’s family is an integral part of her inspiration to conserve the environment and promote sustainable green solutions. TGIF is a result of the Westerly Innovations Network (WIN), a community service organization started by her father, Jason Lin, in 2002. It is also run by students, including Lin’s older brother, Alex Lin, who has earned numerous accolades for his own initiatives.
“I want to make an impact,” says Lin, and indeed she has. In 2005, she spoke as a delegate to the UNEP Tunza International Youth Conference held in South Korea. She was named one of America’s top ten youth volunteers for 2011 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, winning a national Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her outstanding volunteer service.
At UNEP’s upcoming TUNZA Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, Lin wants to help children understand what a sustainable lifestyle is, and encourage them to make simple but critical changes, such as buying e-books rather than paperback publications.
Lin who draws her inspiration from passion for the environment and conservation believes, “it doesn’t matter how big or small you are, anyone can make a difference!”
Her dream project for the future is to design a model of a zero-waste community.
Lin will be one of over 1,400 youth who will shape and sharpen the position of youth in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), or Rio+20, that will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 2012.