You are taking something that you are not going to do anything with other than throw away and cause waste to the community and turning it into something useful for families who can’t afford oil,” Matthew Fera, 12, a sixth grader at Sherman Elementary School said of the Turn Grease Into Fuel program (TGIF), which was started at the school more than a year ago.
Last year, Sherman students and the local community collected 700 gallons of grease that was converted into biodiesel and used to heat the homes of families in need, while statewide TGIF helped to transform 1,450 gallons of used cooking oil into biodiesel fuel credits for needy families.
The students at Sherman want to help raise awareness that they serve as a drop-off point so they can collect even more grease. Each Wednesday, they welcome the community to visit to make donations. Yesterday marked the first drop-off day of 2012.
While oil from animal fat, such as bacon grease, cannot be donated, other food products cooked in peanut, canola and corn oil are needed.
Sherman sixth graders Alyssa Ferland, 12, Kalen Whitney, 11, and Nicole Racca, 11, said they thought the program sounded a bit “weird” at first, but after learning more about it realized it is “cool.”
Their classmate, Kyle Denis, 12, agreed and said, “I thought it was interesting and a little strange, but this is a way to really use our resources to help people in need.”
Their teachers, Patricia and Stacey Bastia, sisters-in-law, initiated TGIF at Sherman with the help of Roberta Steinle of the Warwick Human Services and a parent of a Sherman student. Patricia said Mayor Scott Avedisian is “really committed to green projects.”
In fact, Avedisian brought the idea to Warwick after meeting with Westerly students in 2010.
Westerly Middle School students spawned the program in 2008 through the Westerly Innovations Network (WIN), a student-led non-profit community problem solving team. They tell residents and businesses to recycle the oil instead of dumping it down the drain, where it can damage septic or sewer systems, as fats, oils and grease are the leading cause of clogs in sewer systems. So far, WIN has established eight receptacles in four cities and towns, including one in Westerly and South Kingstown, one on the Stonington/Mystic line, plus five in Warwick, including Sherman, as well as four Warwick fire stations.
In a recent interview, Avedisian said more awareness should be raised on the topic so it continues to thrive.
Patricia agreed and said it’s important for the community to realize people don’t have to be affiliated with Sherman to make an oil contribution.
“You can be a resident of the neighborhood and just bring it by,” she said. “The kids are coming in with big jugs of cooking oil to donate. There’s a big Patriots game this weekend so people are frying mozzarella sticks, onion rings and they can save that cooking oil and bring it here.”
WIN has been asking restaurants to participate by donating their used grease, as well. To date, 110 have signed up in the Westerly area alone.
Marley’s on the Beach in Oakland Beach has been helpful with the project and Patricia hopes more local businesses will pitch in. She said the Parent Teacher Association earns $100 in cash from each restaurant that makes a donation, as the school is saving restaurants money from having to hire private contractors to visit them and remove their used oil.
“We haven’t had a good response and there are so many restaurants on Warwick Avenue,” she said. “It would be great if we could get more involved.”
Patricia said Avedisian selected Sherman to be the pilot school for the program because they have a strong focus on recycling, which increased more than five years ago when Patricia realized
the city of Warwick was paying a trash contractor $55,000 a year to collect recyclables from local schools.
Patricia said it occurred to her that the city could save money if teachers and school staff members encouraged students to take more action.
“I thought, ‘Why are we paying someone to do this when we can do it ourselves?’” Patricia said. “We thought, ‘Why can’t the city trucks gather the recyclables from the schools at no cost to the city? They do their routes anyway.’ From there, we set out to prove that our kids can recycle.”
Needless to say, they’ve made their point, as Patricia and Stacey met with Chris Beneduce, who works for the recycling department at the Department of Public Works, and helped them devise a plan so sixth graders could collect paper, cans and plastic recyclables separately, bring them to the proper bins and have custodians bring them to the curb on trash day for city pickup.
“It gives our sixth graders a purpose and a compelling reason to recycle,” Patricia said. “They are leaders and think of it as a privilege.” Stacey also said, “It carries through to their homes and they are influencing their parents.”
Moreover, they began a community service project in November and started collecting plastic bags, such as shopping bags, zip lock bags, dry cleaner bags and any other kinds of “stretchy” plastic, and bring them to Morris Farms, as the government no longer supplies local farms with bags so customers can store their produce. So far, they’ve accumulated 3,000 plastic bags.
“We’re re-using and that’s part of reduce, reuse, recycle,” Stacey said. “We bring the kids to the landfill and it’s powerful for them to see that big heap of trash. The buses drive up to the top so the students can actually see what we’ve created. All you see are plastic bags flying around.”
The sixth graders often visit the younger classes to educate them about the appropriate bins to recycle certain products in. They also inform them of TGIF.
“They are influencing younger kids and then they get excited to do the projects when they reach sixth grade,” Stacey said. “They view it as a privilege.”
Sherman has another recycling program, as they have two compost bins, one of which was donated by the Resource Recovery Center, and the other by school Principal Michelle Paton.
Students collect lunchroom waste, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, put them in the bins and use it as fertilizer for garden beds on their property.
“We have since planted 100 daffodil bulbs, six Rose of Sharon trees and perennials,” said Patricia.
TGIF is slowly rolling it’s way to a local high school, as well. Patricia is serving as a mentor for Emma Hindinger, a senior at Warwick Veterans Memorial High School, who is introducing this recycling concept as her senior project to her school.
“She’s bouncing off the success we’ve had here and shining the light about the project to others,” said Patricia.
Avedisian said not only do the Westerly students impress him, he is in awe of the work the children of Sherman have done.
“They’re an amazing group of kids that really get it,” he said. “It’s so nice to see.”