Graduates at Emory’s 2014 Commencement ceremony will be wearing graduation gowns made completely of recycled bottles as part of an initiative to make the ceremony more sustainable.

These GreenWeaver gowns are made by Oak Hall Cap & Gown, and 349 other educational institutions used them in 2012, according to the company’s website.

To make these gowns, Oak Hall processes recycled plastic bottles to remove impurities, chops the bottles into “flakes,” melts the flakes and solidifies them into uniform pellets. These pellets are then converted into a filament yarn that is woven, dyed and finished, according to their website.

The website also says that it takes about 23 bottles to make each gown, which can then be recycled after graduation.

By press time, Oak Hall will have recycled almost 43 million water bottles, according to a counter on the company’s website.

Additionally, the website says that carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 54.6 percent in the process of plastic manufacturing versus polyester. Petroleum usage is also reduced by more than 52 percent due to the thermal recycled energy used.

The changes in gowns apply to all three levels of gowns – bachelor, master and doctoral – and are made available for students in the Emory bookstore, according to Michael Kloss, chief of protocol and executive director of the Office of University Events at Emory.

According to Director of Sustainability Initiatives Ciannat Howett, conversations surrounding this decision began during the summer with Kloss and staff and focused on making Commencement more sustainable and achieve Emory’s goal of 65 percent landfill waste diversion by 2015.

According to Kloss, Campus Life created a regalia task force to review the existing program after the previous contract expired. He added that the contract is made through the bookstore but is advised by the University.

The task force specifically made recommendations about programchanges based off of student feedback from a 2011 survey, Kloss said.

Kloss added that the recommendations of this group and the University Convocations Committee were then proposed to the deans for approval in November.

Howett added that these meetings have resulted in making Commencement receptions “zero waste” events, which calls for composting and recycling.

“The story is a nice example of how members of Emory’s community have embraced the sustainability initiative to change products and practices and adopt more sustainable options,” Howett said.

According to Kloss, this was the first year that these specific gowns will be used and the first year that a recycled plastic option has been viable due to no increase in cost. The material also has a softer touch than traditional polyester and is wrinkle resistant and lightweight.

“We are always looking for ways to reduce the environmental impact of events like Commencement, and this regalia change was a perfect enhancement,” Kloss said.

Kloss said further changes made to Commencement include an elimination of Bachelor hoods from the required Academic Costume Code and a new gold embroidered Emory seal that was added to the gown itself.

College senior Shyama Appareddy said that while she respects the changes being made, she feels that it would have been more sustainable to borrow a gown from a friend who had graduated previously instead of buying a new one.

On the other hand, College senior Benjamin Kramer-Roach said he thinks the new gowns are a practical solution and a symbolic gesture for the beginning of a life imprinted with the ideals of sustainability.

– By Naomi Maisel

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