Campus Environmental Center thinks out-of-the-box for America Recycles Day

Andrea Tinning

Longhorn students no longer have any reason to fear invading medieval armies, because some students are finally building a fortress on the East Mall — moat not included.

The Campus Environmental Center is inviting all students to help construct a fortress made from cardboard boxes on the East Mall in honor of the 20th celebration of America Recycles Day this Wednesday.

Along with the construction of the fortress, CEC invites students to join them for hot chocolate provided by the Division of Housing and Food Service.

Brianna Duran, CEC program coordinator and staff advisor for the Office of Sustainability, said she came across the idea after looking for creative ways to engage students. While searching, she said she discovered that in 2012, CEC invited students to help construct a cardboard longhorn.

“I was really excited about it, so I shared it with the other staff people here and was like, ‘This is the kind of thing CEC needs to do,’” Duran said.

Environmental science senior Katie Aplis is an education and outreach leader for CEC and helped prepare for the event. After weeks of gathering supplies, she said members are expecting a large turnout.

“We’ve already collected around 2,000 boxes for the box fort,” Aplis said. “We’re hoping to build the base of the fort and students tack on to it so it’s an organic shape by the end of the day.”

Aplis said she believes the idea will not only help educate students about recycling, but also appeal to their inner child.

“I think it’s kind of nostalgic,” Aplis said. “I imagine the Box Fort being created and then people studying inside of it.”

Members of CEC may have meticulously planned for the box fort’s construction, but Vaishali Jayaraman, computer science and Sanskrit junior, made sure the fortress’s inevitable demolition would be eco-friendly too.

“One thing that we’ve done is have recyclable tape involved,” said Jayaraman, CEC education and outreach leader. “Afterwards, we’re going to dismantle the boxes and send it to recycling.”

Though the project is meant to be a fun activity for students, it’s also designed to draw attention to the larger issue of recycling in the United States, where less than 22 percent of all discarded materials are recycled, according to a Yale University/EPA study.

UT is taking its own steps to be more environmentally friendly through the campus Zero Waste initiative. By 2020, it is proposed that 90 percent of the University’s garbage will be diverted to compost or recycling instead of going to a landfill.

According to Jayaraman, who is involved with the Zero Waste workplace as well as CEC, student recycling is an important aspect of the initiative.

“It’s the easiest thing a student can do to make progress reaching our goal,” Jayaraman said. “I also think recycling is the easiest thing anyone can do to create an impact for the environment.”

At the end of the day, America Recycles Day is meant to bring out the conservationist in everyone. For Duran, it is a way to engage students who are still learning to be environmentally conscientious and a gateway for students to become more proactive members of society.

“To me, recycling is the stepping stone to more aware environmentalism,” Duran said. “It’s pretty convenient, especially in Austin, so if you can at least do that, you’re doing something for the environment, and hopefully people continue to take it up a level from there.”