Green Team sets precedent with Earth-friendly makeover

For the first time ever, the Maccabi Games will not serve bottled water to  athletes.

Instead, the 1,500 participants will be given reusable stainless steel water bottles that can be refilled with water or Powerade from giant refillable jugs, the kind football players dump on their coach after a big win.

Miriam Gordon

“Generally, when you go to the Maccabi Games, there are plastic water bottles littering the ground or thrown in the garbage, and a lot of kids don’t realize what they’re doing,” said Jackie Lewis, director of the games. “They don’t understand how they’re impacting the Earth, and how our resources aren’t here forever. It’s important we teach that.”

So this year’s Maccabi Games are going green.

“It’s a whole new way of doing the event,” said Green Team committee chair Miriam Gordon.

Gordon is an environmental activist and the California director of Clean Water Action. She’s also the mom of two Maccabi athletes, and has seen firsthand the amount of waste the games typically generate.

A year and a half ago, the San Francisco woman proposed greening the games and attempting to make them a zero-waste event — recycling and composting all waste so almost nothing goes into landfill.

Lewis and the games staff signed on to the effort.

Gordon’s first step was to eliminate from the budget disposable water bottles and sports drink bottles, opting instead for large jugs with water and Powerade made from a powdered mix. She’s even asked the host families to not send athletes to the games with the plastic bottles.

Jackie Lewis

Garbage cans in every venue will be called “eco-stations,” and they will contain three bins: green for compost, blue for recyclables and black for landfill.

Volunteers will monitor the eco-stations and educate people about what’s compostable, what’s recyclable and what belongs in the landfill — and why such distinctions matter.

“Many have never seen recycling or compost collection on San Francisco’s level, so we’re trying to be as educational as possible in our approach,” Gordon said.

On top of those changes, the Maccabi Games will serve the athletes kosher meat meals on reusable plates with silver flatware. (Vegetarian meals will be served on compostable plates because purchasing a second set of dishes to maintain kashrut was cost-prohibitive.)

Maccabi staff hired a transportation company with buses that run on biofuels to transport the athletes around the city. “Alternative-powered vehicles reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Gordon said.

Online, all participants and visiting spectators can calculate their carbon footprint associated with coming to the games. Based on the pounds of carbon each person produces, they can choose to offset that carbon by making a contribution to the Jewish National Fund or the Carbon Fund.

The Games are also printing much less material than past events did, posting notices online whenever possible. Whatever they do print is on post-consumer recycled content and is double-sided.

The Green Team also made sure that anything purchased for the Games had the environment in mind. Posters were printed on reclaimed cardboard. Participant and volunteer T-shirts are made from organic cotton. The food that will be served to the athletes will be mostly organic and locally produced whenever possible.

Even the pins that the San Francisco delegation will trade with other Maccabi athletes are made with recycled PVC-plastic.

The Green Team has tracked all of its progress in making the Maccabi Games Earth-friendly so that future host cities will have helpful guidelines to follow in San Francisco’s footsteps, said Dena Stern, a volunteer on the Green Team and a staff member at JCCSF’s The Hub.

Green Mary, the waste management company hired for the Games, will weigh the compost and recyclables each day; at the end of the Games, athletes will hear just how much waste they helped divert from a landfill.

“We want to show these kids that what they do has an impact, and that it’s not so hard to make a difference,” Stern said. “And hopefully they can take that knowledge back to communities and be the ambassadors of change.”

To sign up to be an eco-station volunteer, visit For more information about helping to green the games, contact Dena Stern at (415) 276-1509 or [email protected]


Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.