15-year-old Cassandra Lin to receive youth award for Bioheat work
Cassandra Lin of Westerly, R.I., is only 15 years old, but she is the mastermind behind the Turn Grease into Fuel project, which has provided more than 70 needy families in the New England area with residential heating. Lin is being recognized for her tremendous community work and environmental problem solving with the 2013 Brower Youth Award, which highlights six young environmental activists in North America each year for their outstanding efforts to promote ecological sustainability and social justice.
Growing up in a family dedicated to serving the community, Lin developed a passion for helping others through unconventional problem solving. In 5th grade after attending a conference where she learned that used cooking oil could be refined into biofuels, Lin’s idea for TGIF took shape.
Lin and her team initially focused on her hometown of Westerly. They visited local restaurants and encouraged businesses to participate in the waste cooking oil (WCO) program. The group faced some stiff opposition, as many businesses actually make revenue by selling their used oil. Lin eventually came up with a compromise, allowing businesses to donate anywhere from 10 to 100 percent of their WCO and keep the rest to sell for profit.
After much convincing and multiple visits, Lin eventually recruited 132 restaurants to participate in her WCO recycling program. With her fuel in place, she contacted Grease Co., Newport Biodiesel and Guardian Fuel to help with refining and distributing the oil, and worked with local nonprofit organizations to distribute the biofuel to assist hard-set families with heating costs.
After five years, Lin has expanded her successful model to include seven nearby New England communities in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. She has also developed a toolkit, which provides documentation for other groups to initiate projects in their own communities. Lin’s passion and determination has benefitted both families and the environment. The EPA estimates that more than 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide were offset due to the use of WCO biodiesel.
Her accomplishments at such a young age are impressive: she initiated and helped pass the Used Cooking Oil Recycling Act of 2011 in her state of Rhode Island, convinced Westerly School District buses to run on recycled biofuel, and is successfully running her TGIF program. But more than personal accolades, Lin wants people to see that her project is something that anyone, anywhere can take on and achieve. In her own words, “Biodiesel can be used in so many ways, it’s so versatile. It addresses a lot of needs and [the TGIF program] is really easy to start up.”
She will be recognized at the Brower Youth Awards ceremony on Oct. 22 in San Francisco. The Brower Youth Awards is the premiere environmental award for young activists and is part of the New Leaders Initiative Program of Earth Island Institute. For more information on Cassandra Lin’s work and the Brower Youth Awards, click here.