Monday, May 17th, 2010

Green Graduation Apparel: From Bottles to Caps and Gowns

This time of year, graduation ceremonies recognize young people’s academic achievement, growth and maturity. What better way to celebrate these virtues than to enable graduates to actually show that they are conscientious citizens of the world at these celebratory ceremonies?

In an effort to meet the green demands of students (and, increasingly, schools), graduation gown companies are manufacturing gowns made from recycled plastic bottles that can be reused or recycled.  According to a recent Associated Press article, the gowns are lighter and softer than traditional virgin polyester.   This will be a huge relief to grads who are typically forced to sit through hot and sweaty outdoor ceremonies.

Oak Hall Cap and Gown in Virginia and University Cap and Gown in Massachusetts are two of the companies offering the recycled plastic bottle gowns – the GreenWeaver and UltraGreen lines, respectively. According to the article, the University of Vermont bookstore is displaying an Oak Hall gown next to 23 plastic bottles in order to show students how many were recycled to make the fabric.

While the green movement is here to stay, currently the standard polyester gowns, which are slightly less expensive, remain the most popular option.  Oak Hall reports that this spring approximately 100 schools ordered the new gowns and 1,500 stayed with the traditional polyester.  The owner of University Cap and Gown says that about 7 percent of his customers ordered the new recycled plastic gowns. (Personally, I think the fact that the “green” gowns currently only come in black may factor into their popularity. So many colleges use graduation gowns that match the traditional colors of the school.)

One key challenge is getting grads exiting the ceremonies to further the sustainability of the gowns by depositing them in specially marked bins so they can be recycled into new fabric. It kind of defeats the whole “recycled bottle” purpose to just trash the gowns. Another option is for grads to give their gowns to a younger friend for reuse.

Recycling or reusing these gowns really shouldn’t be a big deal for these diploma-toting, newly educated, mature citizens of the world, right?

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