Nutrition Services finds it’s easy being green with competitions, games

With more than 220,000 meals a day served, HISD’s Nutrition Services generates a massive volume of waste – which is now being recycled, thanks to new green initiatives at the Food Service Support facility.

Recycling bins have been distributed to manufacturing and common areas and to every cubicle in administration to collect paper, plastic wrap, cans, bottles and more for reuse instead of landfilling.

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“We are so proud of our green efforts,” said Jennifer Lengyel, Nutrition Services nutrition education dietitian, who is leading the efforts at the support facility. “We pride ourselves in nourishing the lives of our students and community with nutritious food, and now we are nourishing the future by protecting the environment and reducing our carbon footprint.”

To kick off the green initiatives, Lengyel collaborated with the Nutrition Services marketing team who developed a competitive three-week program called “The Recycle Games” to educate and engage employees. The facility’s many departments were divided into 10 teams, competing in weekly games which included Recycle Selfie, where teams took self-portraits while recycling; Recycle Bingo, where teams learned the variety of items which can be recycled at the facility through collecting recyclable items in a bingo format; and Recycle War, where the teams duked it out collecting cans and bottles worth positive and negative points.

“The objective of the games was to engage our employees with fun, competitive activities as well as educate them on the specifics on what is recyclable in our particular facility. The response was above our expectations,” says Erica Chung, associate marketing manager/communications specialist. “In one week alone, the support facility with a modest population of 300 employees recycled over 3,000 cans and bottles!”

Although the games have ended, the efforts continue. There are plans to replace plastic water bottles and Styrofoam cups with a centralized water dispenser and sustainable hot/cold cups for water and coffee.

“Once our employees are comfortable with recycling, the next step is to reduce waste as a whole,” says Lengyel.  “It’s great to recycle the plastic bottles, but let’s reduce plastic bottle usage altogether.”

On Sept. 26, Nutrition Services celebrated Green Apple Day, a national day of service devoted to transforming all schools into healthy, safe, cost-efficient, and productive learning places. Nutrition Services used the day to announce the winners of the Recycle Games, as well as to begin the next phase of the green initiative — waste reduction.

“We are about education and developing behaviors that enriches lives,” said Nutrition Services General Manager Marina DeFuentes. “Going green is a way to engage in behaviors that reduce the amount of waste that finds its way into landfills. We are helping to sustain the environment for future generations.”