History department works to replaces plastic, paper waste in Garrison Hall

Lauren Grobe

Over the course of a few months, the majority of Garrison Hall’s plastic and paper waste have been replaced with compostable alternatives. 

History professors Tracie Matysik and Joan Neuberger formed a history sustainability collective last spring after noticing how much waste produced in Garrison could be recycled. Matysik said the collective replaced the pod-based coffee pots, implemented water filling stations to reduce plastic waste and replaced all paper towels and utensils with compostable alternatives.

“I wanted to … get rid of the coffee pods that we used so many of and sent to the landfill every day.” Neuberger said.

The collective’s goal is to make Garrison a zero-waste building, and so far the fourth floor is completely zero waste, Matysik said. According to the University’s sustainability website, zero waste is defined as reducing waste sent to landfills by reducing the use of disposable products or by replacing those products with more recyclable alternatives.

Courtney Meador, senior program coordinator at the Institute for Historical Studies, helped implement most of the changes. Meador said she researched possible changes the history department could make and found the University’s Resource Recovery office.


“We didn’t even know there was a Resource Recovery department at UT,” Neuberger said. “We invited them over, and they gave us an introduction to what was possible to do.”

Matysik said once a week, a staff or faculty volunteer checks the compost bin and takes it out.

“It’s 10 minutes out of the day,” Matysik said. “It’s really important that we think about, in general, how we take care of our local environment.”

The history staff and faculty worked together to make the sustainability collective a reality because they care about the environment and want to make changes, Matysik said. She said a main concern of the collective was to not make the custodial staff’s job more difficult or incur unnecessary expenses. 

“They’re all interested in doing their share to help offset what is happening in the world, so that means beginning where a lot of us spend our time, which is in the office,” Meador said.

Protecting the environment is a growing concern for people, and smaller changes can have significant effects, Neuberger said.

“The problem is big corporations and big institutions,” Neuberger said. “If the University supported this whole program, that’s a huge institution, and that would make a big impact.”