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College Grads Don Recycled Gowns for Ceremonies Across the Country

Jun 20, 2011

Thousands of 2011 college graduates are facing the uncertainties of tomorrow while wearing yesterday's throwaways. In a unique show of sustainability, dozens of colleges and universities across the United States have chosen to clad their graduates in caps and gowns made from recycled materials. So once the diploma is in hand and the cap tossed into the air, both the cap and gown can be tossed back from where they came from: the recycling bin.

By Harrison Howe

graduation

Yesterday's Soda Bottle is Today's Graduation Gown

Many of the recycled caps and gowns are made from recycled plastic bottles (a test run on gowns made from bamboo failed), and others from biodegradable wood pulp. Demand has risen from 2010; according to Oak Hall Cap & Gown of Virginia, more than 250 colleges and universities have ordered recycled graduation apparel compared to just 60 last year. Willsie Cap and Gown in Omaha, which makes the GreenGown, says sales were up 300%.

George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, will see nearly 7,400 graduates don the recycled caps and gowns. Florida International University's 4,500 graduates will wear them. So will graduates of University of Vermont, University of New Hampshire and University of Texas. It's estimated that about 300,000 graduates around the country are going green.

It takes about 23 bottles to make just one gown. The bottles are melted down into pellets and then spun into a fabric similar to polyester. However, many students seem to like the recycled material better, claiming the gowns are surprisingly lighter, softer and more breathable than their traditional polyester counterparts. Students were also shocked to discover that, despite being made from plastic, the recycled material actually felt 'less plasticy'.

Spending More Green to Go Green

One of the few complaints about the green graduation apparel is that it costs on average a few dollars more per gown than going the traditional route, and many colleges have students buy rather than rent gowns. Prices tend to vary from one school to another, but some institutions choose not to charge students the difference between recycled and polyester material. In addition, some manufactures will give a donation to the institutions purchasing their attire.

Manufacturers and schools encourage graduates to return the gowns so they can be recycled or used again, rather than throwing them away, which sort of defeats the purpose of recycling. Then they're simply 'replacing bottles in landfills with fabric in landfills', Jennifer Schwab, the Director of Sustainability for the Sierra Club, told MySanAntonio.com, a website of the San Antonio Express-News (May, 2010).

Still, even if many of the gowns are not returned, the impact on the environment cannot be ignored. The bottom line? They keep plastic bottles from being dumped into landfills around the country. Oak Hall Cap & Gown, which has manufactured the 'DreamWeaver' since 2009, says their gowns alone have kept about seven million bottles from being dumped into landfills.

Going green is about more than caps and gowns; find out about the country's greenest colleges and how they maintain their sustainability practices.


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