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College Graduations Go "Green" with Eco-Friendly Gowns

May 11, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

As further evidence that “going green” is here to stay, college graduations across the country may be looking a bit more environmentally-friendly this commencement season. According to a recent article from the Associated Press, at least 100 schools will have their graduates decked out in gowns made of recycled or biodegradable materials.

The gowns come from a number of manufactures, and a number of materials. Plastic has proved to be one of the more popular options, although schools have explored gowns made of sustainable bamboo and acetate, a material that decomposes within a year, according to the article. (Those made with the acetate come in a variety of colors; the plastic bottle gowns come only in black.)

Wake Forest University is one school that will have its graduates dressed in gowns made of recycled plastic bottles this season; each gown is made of about 23 plastic bottles. Students at Lafayette College and the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh will be trying out the biodegradable gowns instead. According to an article in The Christian Science Monitor, administrators at those schools said they wanted to test the product’s claims that the gowns would biodegrade within a year’s time, as they assume students will most likely toss their gowns after the ceremonies rather than looking for recycling bins set up campus-wide.

The gowns made out of the plastic bottles cost about $2 more apiece, although most colleges will be absorbing those costs. The biodegradable gowns range in price, although administrators have said they cost about 18 percent more than the gowns they had been using. Traditional gowns are made out of petroleum-based polyester. Students who have already tried out the varieties of “green” gowns made say they’re much lighter than the alternative, making them ideal for warm weather ceremonies.

It may no longer even be accurate to say that colleges are “going green.” Many of them are already there if you consider lists like the recent ranking of the 286 greenest colleges in the country from The Princeton Review. Commencements have also been a target of the environmentally-conscious for quite some time, with schools making sure to print programs on recycled paper, sending emailed invitations and tickets rather than printing them, using recycled cardboard in caps, or looking for ways to cut down on electricity use at the actual ceremonies. Would you describe your impending graduation ceremony as “green”? What has your college been doing to become more environmentally sound, or what more can they do?


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