Graduates to wear 'plastic' gowns

By Leslie King | Emory Report | Feb. 27, 2014

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For Commencement 2014, all undergraduate gowns and some professional doctoral gowns will be made completely from recycled bottles. Emory Photo/Video.

What do a plastic water bottle and a graduation gown have in common?

At Emory, they're now joined at the hip—literally.

For Commencement 2014, all undergraduate gowns and some professional doctoral gowns will be made completely from recycled bottles, according to Michael Kloss, Emory's chief of protocol and executive director of the Office of University Events.

Available for the first time, an estimated 2,900 "GreenWeaver" gowns are to be used this year, representing 66,700 plastic bottles diverted from landfills. The fabric is described as being softer to the touch than traditional polyester.

The gowns, along with other regalia for graduates, were available at the Grad Fair held Feb. 26–27 at Emory's Barnes and Noble Bookstore.

Other facts about the fabric from the maker, Oak Hall:

  • They are made from 100 percent post-consumer plastic bottles.
  • Approximately 23 bottles are used to make each gown
  • The gowns are wrinkle resistant and lightweight.
  • They can be recycled after graduation.

To make the gowns, Oak Hall processes recycled plastic bottles to remove unusable materials such as labels and caps. The bottles are then chopped into fragments or "flakes," which are melted and solidified into pellets called "chips."

The chips are then re-melted and made into continuous filament yarn that is woven, dyed and finished.

According to the company, CO2 gas emissions are reduced by 54.6 percent in the process of manufacturing fabric from plastic verses using virgin polyester.

Petroleum usage is reduced by over 52 percent by utilizing thermal recycled energy, the company claims.

Also new this year in graduation wear:

  • Hoods on bachelor gowns have been removed, lowering their cost by almost 25 percent. This change was based in part on feedback from a 2011 survey of students.
  • All PhD degree recipients will have the option of renting a custom Emory blue gown.
  • An embroidered University seal has been added to the bachelor's, master's and professional doctoral degree gowns to match the embroidered seal on PhD gowns.