Cassandra Lin

When a seventh-grader tells the world she has found a brilliantly simple way to solve not one but three big issues affecting her community, people sit up and pay attention. It should come as no surprise then that ever since twelve-year old Cassandra Lin presented a way to redirect waste, prevent costly sewer damage and provide support to local families struggling to heat their homes, her efforts have been garnering a lot of it.

The receptacle located at the Stonington, CT transfer station. Image courtesy of Project T.G.I.F.
The receptacle located at the Stonington, CT transfer station. Image courtesy of Project TGIF.

Lin is a brilliant young social entrepreneur who has demonstrated an eager dedication to environmentalism, and fantastic creative problem solving skills. Her acute business sense and commitment to challenging the status quo have resulted in revolutionary change to the way her town approaches social and environmental issues.

Lin noticed three distinct issues within her hometown. First, waste oils, fats and grease were routinely being poured down kitchen drains, creating clogs and sewage issues that were eating up valuable time and resources to fix. And, in a seemingly unrelated issue, members of her own community were having trouble covering the cost of heating their homes, leaving them vulnerable to the  weather.

Not that TGIF

For Lin however, these issues were anything but unrelated. With the help of her friends she created a program called T.G.I.F., which would solve both of these problems in an incredibly green way.

T.G.I.F. stands for “turn grease into fuel”. Lin approached her local city council with a proposal to add an oil collection site to those set up for electronics and other recyclables at the local municipal drop off. She conducted an impressive educational campaign aimed at both individuals and local businesses, educating people about recycling their cooking oils instead of disposing of them down kitchen drains. Next, she contracted a local company to collect and refine the cooking oil, and then sold the resulting biodiesel. With this kind of set-up – literally turning trash to treasure – you’d think she would be laughing all the way to the bank. But instead, T.G.I.F. turns all profits over to local charities whose mandate is to provide assistance to those family struggling to afford heat. In one year, T.G.I.F. helped heat the homes of 40 local families over the winter.

If your jaw just hit the floor, you’re not the only one. So far over 85 restaurants have signed up to participate in this recycling program, a number that is constantly increasing. The creators of T.G.I.F. have fielded interviews from NBC Connecticut, CNN Newsroom, and were recently one of five projects selected for the MTV Switch campaign – the only program in the United States to be given this distinction.

She’s twelve. And she’s changing the world.

So, the next time a kid tells you they have a good idea – pull up a chair and start taking notes. If theirs is anything like Lin’s, you’re going to want in. Guaranteed.

Feature image courtesy of Bower Youth Awards

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.