Thanks to about 23 plastic bottles, the cap and gown your grad will be wearing this year may be a whole lot greener. Colleges and universities across the country are ordering environmentally friendly graduation garb for their students. The students can rent the wardrobe and turn them in after graduation for next year’s use. How’s that for Reduce-Reuse-Recycle?
The material is made from recycled plastic bottles. The bottles are broken down into plastic pellets. The pellets are melted down, extruded, and spun into fabric. Et voilà, a cap and gown!
What is significant here is that traditional pomp and circumstance has caught up with the rest of the world. For years, polyester ruled campuses everywhere. And they still do. Only 100 schools opted for eco-friendly caps and gowns while the remaining 1,500 stayed true to the shiny synthetic. With the green gowns, students can rent their cap and gown and return them for use another year. And for schools that have made a move to be environmentally friendly in other ways—recycling, green building, and local, organic produce in their cafeterias, among other things—this is a perfect way to end a green year.
Of course, using recycled plastic bottles as a fabric material is nothing new. In a previous article on this site, we discussed the Revenge Is… T-shirts and reusable bags made from rPET bottles. Born out of sheer disgust at the number of plastic bottles that end up in a landfill, company owner Marilyn Barrett found a way to manufacture the bottles in a fabric that some say feels like cashmere. As she states on her web site, the “best revenge is living well.”
For area universities like Quinnipiac University in Hamden, their recent graduates sported the “Green Weaver” line from Oak Hall Caps & Gowns, a company based in Salem, VA. “’Wow!’ was the first reaction we received when we showed some of our customers,” said executive vice president of Oak Hall Joseph D’Angelo in a company press release. “They’ve told us, ‘I can’t believe that you can make
something that can look like this out of plastic. Our students will embrace this.’”
Students from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont also donned the green grad gear. According to story coverage by WCAX in Colchester, VT, they liked the company’s flexibility. "Yeah, it is pretty great! They are a lot lighter than the old ones and a lot more sustainable which is a good thing," graduate Sarah Smolen was quoted as saying. "I am going to be turning the gown in, but not the cap which is cool that they are letting us do one or the other or both or either."
Launching the eco-friendly line last summer, Oak Hall started researching the fabric options in January, 2008. They first looked at a blend with bamboo. Much like organic cotton, bamboo is a sustainable and sturdy fabric. But using bamboo didn’t have the same positive impact on the environment as keeping millions of plastic bottles out of landfills did. To date, the company has reused over 3.2 million plastic bottles rather than having them discarded. And for every purchase of their Green Weaver line, the company will make a donation to that school’s choice of sustainable projects.
Other companies have joined Oak Hall in their quest for the greener gown. Massachusetts-based University Cap & Gown also offers a line of graduation robes made from recycled plastic bottles. And, long-time graduation ring provider Josten’s also has a green line of caps and gowns.
An increasing number of schools are taking the environment seriously, from sustainable practices to environmental studies programs. This is one easy change that schools can make to positively impact the environment. One small step for schools, one giant leap for the environment.
Image courtesy of Oak Hall Cap & Gown.