The sound of masking tape being stretched and torn, cardboard boxes being folded, and students laughing and chattering filled Gregory Plaza on Friday morning, as more than a hundred students gathered to build the first cardboard box castle at the University of Texas.
The box building comes as a part of America Recycles Day, and the project is quickly becoming a national fad. In universities across the country, students gather to build a temporary structure made entirely of cardboard boxes and held together with masking tape.
“A couple of years ago, Brigham Young [University] built a box fort, and they had like 500 boxes,” says Emily Mixon, the director of the Campus Environmental Center. “And then Harvard got in on it, and so they’ve kind of been going back and forth. BYU held the record at 3,200 boxes as of last America Recycles Day.”
It’s a record that the Campus Environmental Center hopes to beat this year. The CEC has been collecting boxes since August, and members estimate that they have around 3,900 boxes. The Center has also partnered with the UT Office of Sustainability, and a number of student organizations, in hopes that their box castle will help bring attention to UT’s growing efforts to raise environmental awareness on campus.
Mixon says that the boxes themselves were collected from small businesses around Austin and the UT campus, with Fiesta grocery store sending a significant number of the boxes to the Center.
She says the Center, which promoted the event through social media, was pleasantly surprised at the level of support from the student community.
“I was expecting to get maybe 100 volunteers, and we had 820 people signed up by the end of the first two days,” says Mixon.
“When I came here earlier in the morning, there was like nothing," says Arnold Perez, a voluneteer who's a freshman in Electrical Engineering. "But now I see all these [boxes] stacked up with all the volunteers that came. I’m enjoying it.”
These student volunteers will be working in shifts and teams throughout the day – stacking, taping, and maneuvering – until an afternoon festival to celebrate the completion of the box castle. After the festival, the boxes will immediately be torn down, re-flattened, and sent to be recycled.
The student union will be hosting the actual tear-down of the boxes -- just in time for finals week.
“They’ll be out here, helping students relieve their stress by tearing down boxes,” says Mixon, laughing. “In the past they’ve had a car out here that you can smash, and I think this is a little more sustainable.”
But for a few hours, at least, students can enjoy the cardboard box castle – designed, appropriately, in the shape of a Longhorn.