Fish Oil Salesman at the Intersection of Lent and Biofuels

Energy Corps

Check out Dan Certo’s experience collection used vegetable oil during Lent:

Lent is a big deal in these parts.

Fish and chips

Fish and chips

Pittsburgh loves deep-fried food. This is obvious to anyone who lives here and to those who have visited Primanti Bros., where a sandwich just isn’t a sandwich without a mound of fries and coleslaw on top. Even our salads get a healthy dose of deep-fried-deliciousness – I can’t tell you how many surprised faces I’ve seen when I’m waiting tables at my other job. Said one Carnegie Mellon University student, “Wait, why is french fries on my salad even an option?” to which I replied, “You’re not from around here, are you?” The rest of the table laughed at how spot on my assessment was.

Which brings me back to Lent. Why would a biofuel operation have any interest in the 40 days before Easter? Two words: Fish fries, baby! (OK, 3 words.)

See, with Pittsburgh’s insatiable hunger for all things dropped in sizzling oil, it comes as no surprise that there are HUNDREDS of fish fries happening all over the city during Lent season, where it’s a Christian faux pas to eat any other meat on a Friday (or so I’ve heard – can’t personally claim any denomination over here, but this is what I’ve been led to believe.)

That’s a lot of fish and chips.

Just like where there’s smoke, there’s fire, wherever fish and French fries meet, there’s bound to be a bounty of used vegetable oil. Most years, ReFuel is content just to collect, tally, and sell the oil to keep our operations running and give us a nice boost through the busy season.

Not this time.

This time, we’re going big.

Enter, #FishFry 2014. The first program of its kind that we’ve heard of, #FishFry aims to create a bigger buzz around the Lenten fish fry season by promoting the churches who have donated their oil to us in the past while providing a secondary source of income from fish fries by selling passports and raffle tickets. Here’s how it works:

Collected Oil

Collected Oil

ReFuel will send volunteers out to different fish fries around Pittsburgh. The volunteers will table for the duration of the event, hopefully educating people about ReFuel and also scoring some free fried cod on a bun while they’re at it. Additionally, the volunteers will sell #FishFry passports and raffle ticket packages. The passport will have a list of every single church that has/will donate their oil to ReFuel during the Lenten season, giving the cardholder a nudge to go ahead and broaden their horizons – there’s more than one fish fry in this greasy sea, after all. Furthermore, purchasing a passport also gets you entered into a raffle to win a home-cooked meal by Pittsburgh’s own Luke Wholey, famous in these parts as part of the Wholly’s Fish Market family. All of this for $5? Yep – we aim to please. ReFuel will keep half the proceeds, while the other half will stay with the churches who hosted our volunteers.

This is the final project I will start as an Energy Corps Member, and the first one I’ll finish as an independent contractor at GTECH, my soon-to-be-former-host-site and soon-to-be-contracted-client. When I first started at GTECH in the ReFuel program, we were already in the thick of the Lent season – and it was insanity. I spent most of the day driving around the city in the truck, hauling jibs (that’s what we call the 4.5 gallon containers the stuff is usually shipped in)of vegetable oil back to base and pouring it all into a quintet of oil drums. Now, the drums have been replaced by 2 high-capacity IBC totes, effectively doubling (and then some) our holding capacity. The truck is still the same, as is the driver (ME!), but the game has changed. It seems fitting that this project would transition me from fellow to contractor – end it the same way I began – but it won’t make it any less bittersweet.

To all my Energy Corps fellows out there, I have one piece of advice to you: Do NOT sell yourself short. This past year will be a tremendous achievement, regardless of who your host site is and what you did for them. You are special: you made it into the program, demonstrated yourself as a valuable asset to your host site, and saw it through to the end. It’s a big deal, a fact that didn’t quite hit me until this week.

So, go ahead. Be proud. Shout it from a mountaintop (I’m looking at you Michael Allen and Eileen Susan!), blast it on facebook and twitter (#imsocool #betterthanyou #EnergyCorps2014 #hiremeplease), make a vine about your experience (Matt Wilk in Philly, what’s up!) and never forget that what we’ve all accomplished this year will stick with us forever.

Don’t forget the friends you’ve made and the professional connections you’ve attained, either. At some point in the future, any one of them could prove useful. So pack up all of your business cards, edit your resume, and get out there. You’ve got a world to save.

dan certo profile picDan Certo graduated from Allegheny College in December of 2013. He engaged kids about systems thinking using aquaponics. Highlights included building an aquaponics system from scrap materials, and improving recycling rates on campus. Dan’s host site is Gtech Strategies.  He works on their Refuel Initiative. His duties include collecting waste vegetable oil (WVO), identifying additional sources of WVO, increase public participation through education and outreach, and contributing to the planning and development of the Refuel PGH program.

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