Seven Westerly middle school students have been awarded the 2010 President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA). They are the only winner selected in EPA’s New England region. At a series of events and a ceremony in Washington, D.C., the youths are being recognized for their “TGIF” project: “Turn Grease into Fuel.”
The students, Cassandra Lin, John Perino, Marissa Chiaradio, Taylor Fiore-Chettiar, Vanessa Bertsch, Miles Temel and Alaxander Lin members of the Westerly Innovations Network at Westerly Middle School. Together, they decided to do their part in tackling global warming by creating a sustainable project that collected waste cooking oil, refined it into biofuel, and distributed it.
“I am so impressed with the commitment these students showed by taking action to improve the environment,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “We have serious environmental problems, but with the creativity and commitment displayed by these students, we can find ways to effectively work toward a cleaner and healthier world.”
The students presented the project to the local town council and convinced them to place a grease receptacle at the town’s transfer station to collect the waste cooking oil from residents. The youths also convinced 64 local restaurants to donate their waste cooking oil, a by-product of fried food. To collect the waste oil from the restaurants and the transfer station, the students collaborated with a company to collect it and bring it to a waste cooling oil/biodiesel refiner. The proceeds from the refiner were used to purchase “Bioheat” from a local distributor to give to local charities.
This project has been, and continues to be, a success for the environmental and local families in need of heating assistance. To date, the project has collected over 36,000 gallons of waste oil (30,000 gallons of biodiesel produced) a year which offset 600,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. This project has donated 4,000 gallons of Bioheat to local charities and has helped 40 families who need emergency heating assistance.
Another critical piece of the project has been the education to school children and local residents. The students have made numerous presentations to the local elementary school and local residents about the program on alternative energy sources and global warming and encouraged their participation in TGIF.
The Presidents Environmental Youth Awards were established in 1971, and are designed to recognize children in grades K through 12 who learn about their environment and create strategies for improving their communities’ public and environmental health. Projects from every state and U.S. territory compete regionally and nationally and are judged by EPA on impacts, benefits, how environmental needs were met and other criteria. PEYA encourages student participation in community projects that have positive environmental impacts and involvement in environmental issues.