While most of her fellow students spent the summer in career-advancing internships or in jobs that allowed for the most partying, Angela Hojnaki went to Sao Paolo, Brazil, to help collect cooking grease. That grease, when run through a special converter, will power the diesel engines of garbage trucks responsible for cleaning up the city's worst slums.
Hojnaki is part of a student collective called Green Grease at MIT, which is dedicated to finding environmentally sound ways to help Brazil's impoverished garbage collectors, known as catadores.
In August 2010, Hojnaki and her fellow students ran a workshop for the catadores, teaching them how to convert their engines to run on the very discarded cooking oil they spend all day collecting.
"They were hesitant at first," Hojnaki said. "But once they started burning it, they love it. They said it smelled like cooking."
Hojnaki presented the results of the Green Grease project on September 22nd, at a USAID/Scientists Without Borders sponsored forum at the United Nations. She said that the catadores spend 20 percent of their own money to pay for fuel, and that this project will help save them money and will simultaneously recycle vast amounts of waste.
Obviously, running a garbage truck on cooking oil is neither renewable nor sustainable. But every mile driven with cooking oil as the fuel represents fossil fuels that aren't being burnt. Moreover, it represents a practical and profitable way to start environmentally sound behavior. And in the developing world, any green initiative will be measured first by how well it helps alleviate poverty.