Recycled Graduation Gowns
That time of year rolls around again, when graduates line up in black polyester gowns in the hot June sun. Polyester, as you may have found out, does NOT breathe well (earn your B.A., not B.O.). Usually the cap and gown are worn only once and who knows where they end up. Donating them to a thrift store is always a good option so that someone else may dress up like Harry Potter or another Hogwarts attendee next Halloween. There are also other ways to reduce and reuse this graduation season.
First thing’s first, if you’re required to buy your own gown, purchasing a used gown is the best environmental practice. This saves the energy of producing something new, and upholds a market for secondhand items. Gowns should be found easily at a thrift store, especially in college towns. Plus it’s not exactly like you need the gown to fit perfectly- it’s a huge black gown that you wear once! Many schools have graduates rent gowns, which is a great practice since the returned gowns are laundered for reuse the following year. It can be argued that transporting a rental gown and cleaning it uses less energy than manufacturing gowns that are used once and then thrown away.
Plastic Water Bottles Made Into Gowns
That said, there are some neat recycled and recyclable green graduation apparel options. University Cap and Gown (download) of Lawrence, Massachusetts manufactures the UltraGreen gown and Oak Hall Cap and Gown of Salem, Virginia produces the Greenweaver. It takes about two dozen post-consumer plastic water bottles to make this lighter, more breathable woven fabric, spun from molten plastic pellets. Check out this PDF for more information on the Greenweaver regalia process and turning plastic bottles into thread.
Manufacturing clothing and other items from plastic bottles is a concept utilized by other companies with an environmental commitment. Patagonia, for example, has an entire line of recycled fleece and recyclable clothing and similar programs are not hard to find, especially with the outdoor gear crowd.
With a little bit of education about the recycling process, graduates are able to recycle their gowns easily. For example, sustainability ambassadors will be on hand to collect the gowns at locations around Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as they rock their green gowns. Recycling options are provided at strategic areas such as building lobbies, following the reception, and at bookstores on campus.
The Temple University graduation used the Greenweaver gown, which has since saved more than a quarter million plastic bottles from becoming waste. The graduation gown recycling project was a partnership between their Office of Sustainability, their Computer Recycling Center, their bookstore, a sustainable student group, and Oak Hall, which recycles the gowns into stuffing for pillows and jackets. For every gown purchased, Oak Hall will also make a $0.25 donation to an on campus sustainability program of the college/bookstore’s choice. If you are involved with planning a graduation, see if you can organize a similar arrangement with campus organizations.
Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, the University of Colorado, Duke University and the University of North Carolina also used recycled gowns for commencement ceremonies. These are a great examples to follow. ConGRADulations on recycling!