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Recycled gowns worn at Alaska graduation

The attire worn Sunday by the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ newest graduates is a little trashy — a fact campus officials couldn’t be happier about.

When members of the Class of 2011 cross the stage Sunday, most of them will be wearing gowns made of recycled plastic bottles. An average of 23 bottles go into each gown, providing a second life for items that would end up in a garbage can.

It’s the latest sign of an emphasis on campus sustainability, as efforts to make UAF greener have taken on more prominence in the past few years.

“This is a good starting point for us,” said Cheri Renson, the UAF director of public events.

Renson heard about the recycled gowns during a January conversation with her daughter, Christy, who graduated this week from Temple University in Philadelphia.

Renson, who oversees the UAF commencement ceremony, wondered why they couldn’t be used here. So she decided to bring up the possibility and let it marinate in the UAF bureaucracy until it emerged at some future graduation.

To her surprise, the idea was immediately embraced.

“I sent the email out on a Sunday,” she said. “By Monday at lunchtime, all these people were telling me we needed to do it.”

The garments, made in the United States by Oak Hall Cap & Gown, are part of a growing trend among colleges. Several companies have introduced recycled gowns in the past few years, and Oak Hill claims about 300,000 students will receive their diplomas in its “GreenWeaver” garments this spring.

This week, 525 of the recycled gowns arrived at the UAF Bookstore, made from roughly 12,075 salvaged bottles. Prices start at $37 for bachelor’s degree gown — slightly less than the conventional polyester-blend gown graduates have worn in the past.

“To not have to raise the price and get something that’s environmentally friendly is a huge benefit,” said Heather Saunders, the UAF Bookstore general manager.

Michele Hebert, the UAF sustainability coordinator, said the gowns are softer and more breathable than the thin fabric that’s part of a traditional graduation gown, even though the newer garment’s material shares some common ancestry with a garbage bag.

“The pop-bottle robes are actually nicer than the regular robes,” Hebert said. “It’s strange.”

Saunders said most of the gowns probably will have a better fate than their plastic bottle cousins. She said surveys have shown most people hang onto their gowns as keepsakes, rather than throw them away.

Hebert said use of recycled gowns is part of a green trend at UAF. Fueled by a $20 fee students approved in 2009, the sustainability office has launched a variety of projects, including a bike rental program, banks of newly installed solar panels and an expanded recycling program.

“Just making a list of all the projects we’re doing is really eye-opening,” Hebert said. “I think it’s built a lot of momentum.”


Source: Fairbanks Daily News Miner




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