Project Turn Grease Into Fuel has had such success building a local following that the teens involved plan to branch out across New England.
“The way that we designed the program, it sustains itself,” said Cassandra Lin, an original member of the 7-year-old project who now attends the Williams School in New London, Conn. “It really just needs maintenance, so we can still be involved once we’re in college.”
John Perino, another original member now at Westerly High School, said, “We want TGIF present in all six New England states in the next five years. We know it’s a big goal, but when we go out to do these pitches, we build a lot of connections, so we think it’s possible.”
Making pitches over the past six years to restaurants and towns from Westerly, Warwick and South Kingstown, to southeastern Connecticut and Fall River, Perino, Lin and several other students have successfully signed on 132 restaurants and 15 municipalities. Early on, they arranged to have Newport Biodiesel collect the waste oil from restaurants or transfer stations and refine it for free.
The proceeds businesses and towns would otherwise pay to a refiner – adding up to more than $126,000 to date – are instead donated to charities and shelters, which in turn provide home-heating assistance to those in need.
As the group enters its seventh year, the project has collected more than 160,000 gallons of waste oil, leading to the creation of 130,000 gallons of biodiesel, said Perino’s mother, Barbara Perino. She is also executive vice president of operations for The Washington Trust Co., and director of the nonprofit Westerly Innovations Network, which provides some basic financial support.
The effort has offset approximately 2.5 million pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, she added.