Don't toss that food! Those jeans! That fryer oil! These teens will put it to good use – and help the Earth, too
Credit: Robert Gallagher

From an early age, they’ve been working to save the planet. Erek Hansen was 8 when he began recycling old, ripped jeans. Cassandra Lin was in the fifth grade when she started collecting cooking oil that could be converted into fuel so her neighbors could have heat. And Gabrielle Posard was only 12 when she came up with a plan to convince grocery stores to donate food rather than dump it.

Each of these environmental kid crusaders has been hailed for making a difference. As we celebrate Earth Day 2013, check out their stories to see simple ways you, too, can make a difference.

Gabrielle Posard, 16: Founded Donate Don’t Dump

Hearing that one in six Americans don’t get enough to eat – while so much good food rots in landfills – “really upset me,” says Gabrielle Posard, from Encinitas, Calif. At age 12, she started talking to grocers about donating food that was near its sell-by date. Since then, her group Donate Don’t Dump has kept 800,000 lbs. of food from emitting greenhouse gases and provided 650,000 meals to the hungry. “What she’s done is amazing,” says Michael Lawson, director of a local food bank. Her explanation? “I’m pretty stubborn.”

Cassandra Lin, 15: Turning Cooking Oil into Fuel

Cassandra Lin didn’t start out “green,” just worried about her Westerly, R.I., neighbors who couldn’t afford heat in winter. After seeing a science expo exhibit on turning old cooking oil into biodiesel fuel, she rounded up five friends to collect some. “Our first stop was a nursing home,” says Lin. “The guy looked kinda surprised – I mean, we were fifth graders – but he signed up.” Calling themselves TGIF (“Turn Grease into Fuel”), they enlisted a refinery and to date have donated some 21,000 gallons of fuel to 210 families. That amounts to an offset of more than 400,000 lbs. of CO2 emissions. Says Lin: “We helped solve two problems at once.”

Erek Hansen, 12: ‘The Denim Recycler’

Erek Hansen started recycling his own worn jeans at age 8 after reading how they could be made into home insulation. Then he organized drives that collected thousands of pairs, which became insulation for communities rebuilding after natural disasters. “I had no idea it would get this big,” says the Curtice, Ohio, seventh grader, who shares green tips at Adds Juliana Sample, head of Keep Toledo/Lucas County Beautiful, which promotes his drives: “He’s obviously some kid!”