Wed, Sep 19, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Youngsters can make a difference, US visitor says

Staff writer, with CNA

Taiwanese-American Cassandra Lin, cofounder of the Turn Grease into Fuel project in Rhode Island, speaks at the King Car International Youth Forum in Taipei on Sunday.

Photo: CNA

Unlike many people, Cassandra Lin (林心瑜) knew at the age of 10 what she wanted to do with her life.

Growing up in Rhode Island, the Taiwanese-American, now 20, has been deeply involved for years in community service projects, including one that tackles global warming and provides social assistance.

Lin is visiting Taiwan at the invitation of the King Car Education Foundation to speak to young people about how they can help change the world.

She and seven of her fifth-grade classmates in 2008 launched what they called “Turn Grease into Fuel” (TGIF), a project to turn waste cooking oil into biofuel that could provide heat for underprivileged families in the winter.

“Climate change is causing more extreme weather patterns, such as record cold temperatures in winter,” Lin said, speaking to high-school students in Taipei on Sunday.

“I found out that many families in my own town could not afford to heat their homes in the winter, and that local charities were running out of funds,” she said.

The TGIF team started by researching on the Internet how fossil fuels impact the environment, how to turn grease into biofuel and how biofuel can be used, said Lin, now a junior at Stanford University majoring in sociology.

She and her classmates developed an action plan that involved collecting waste cooking oil and refining and distributing biofuel.

“Age doesn’t matter as much as how much initiative you are willing to put in,” she said.

The group’s first step was to raise public awareness of the benefits of recycling waste cooking oil and grease, she said.

They asked the town council to install a waste cooking oil receptacle at a local transportation hub to make it more convenient for residents to recycle their oil and grease.

They also made presentations at elementary schools, encouraging other youngsters to try to convince their families to recycle their cooking oil.

With the help of their families and school, Lin and her friends managed to network with oil refiners, distributors and charities, which required them to develop good communication skills and problem-solving abilities, she said.

One of the group’s biggest challenges was getting restaurants to participate, and only about 5 percent of the restaurants in her town initially joined the effort, she said.

In addition to providing the restaurants with information about the project, the group also came up with a plan to offer TGIF coupons to participating restaurants to boost their business, she said.

As the project took root and blossomed over the years, the group turned their attention to legislation, drafting a bill with the help of state legislators to mandate that all businesses recycle their used cooking oil.

In 2011, the group members testified at the Rhode Island State House during a hearing on the bill, which was eventually passed and took effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

Now in its 10th year, the TGIF project has turned 1.2 million liters of grease into 1 million liters of biodiesel valued at US$190,000, which has offset more than 1,814 tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions.

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