An Outstanding Achievement

Rhode Island teenager recognized by U.N. for biodiesel project
By Erin Voegele | January 18, 2012

In 2008, now 13-year-old Cassandra Lin began an initiative to benefit her local community in Westerly, R.I. According to Lin, the inspiration for her project began at an environmental expo she attended at the University of Rhode Island. “There, I found out that you can collect waste cooking oil and turn it into biodiesel,” she says. Around the same time, Lin became familiar with a local charity program that provides heating assistance to families and individuals who cannot afford to heat their homes. Together with a group of her friends, Lin hatched a plan to collect used cooking oil, convert that oil into biodiesel, and use the resulting fuel to help provide heating assistance to members of the local community. 


The initiative, known as the Turn Grease into Fuel recycling program, currently sources used cooking oil from approximately 109 restaurants and several public receptacles located in the region. According to Lin, the initiative is currently able to collect approximately 4,000 gallons of waste cooking oil per month, and has generated about 72,000 gallons of biodiesel to date. Overall, the program has provided more than 14,400 gallons of Bioheat to local charities for distribution to their clients.


Lin and her team enlist restaurants and local residents to donate their used cooking oil to the initiative. They also work to establish collection points for used cooking oil at city transfer stations, fire departments, and other public facilities. According to information released by the United Nations, the TGIF project is responsible for a mandate in Rhode Island that currently requires all businesses that consume cooking oil within the state to recycle their waste grease.


 The waste cooking oil collected by the program is currently converted into biodiesel by Newport Biodiesel LLC. Lin says a portion of the sale price of the cooking oil goes to TGIF, which donates those funds to local charities that provide heating assistance.


The TGIF program was recently featured on the home page of the United Nations Environmental Programme. “That was a really cool honor,” Lin says. She has participated in several U.N. youth events in the past, including conferences in Norway, South Korea and Indonesia. In June 2012, Lin will be one of more than 1,400 youths who travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to participate in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Lin has also been named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers for 2011 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and has won a national Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her volunteer service.


Lin says the feedback her team has received from the charities it donates to has been overwhelmingly positive. She also notes that TGIF has plans to expand its reach. Last year the program began to operate in additional Rhode Island communities, and is currently expanding into Connecticut. “In the next five years we want to be in all six New England states,” she says.

—Erin Voegele

 
 
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