Penn Commencement caps and gowns made of recycled plastic bottles

Green Gowns at Penn Bookstore

Penn undergraduates try to guess which gowns are made from recycled plastic bottles. Photo Credit: Peter Tobia

Graduating Penn students lined up in the Penn Bookstore on Wednesday, March 17, to be measured for their Commencement regalia, which this year come with a green twist.

The caps and gowns aren't green in color, but they are green in spirit. The black fabric is made of 100 percent, post-consumer, recycled plastic water and soda bottles.

Oak Hall Cap & Gown of Virginia created the ceremonial robes as part of its GreenWeaver line. The fabric was spun from molten plastic pellets. An average of 23 bottles are needed to make each gown. The apparel is virtually indistinguishable in color, feel or fit from traditional polyester material.

In fact, in a test at the Bookstore’s graduation gown display, about half of the undergraduates who stopped by thought the traditional gown was the one made of recycled plastics because its fabric was heavier. Several were thrilled to learn that they would be wearing the lighter fabric.

SEAS senior Matthew Rehmann, after feeling the two fabrics, simply guessed, “I honestly can’t tell the difference.”

“Part of Penn’s Climate Action Plan is to forge relationships with suppliers that promote eco-friendly options,” says Marie Witt, vice president of the Business Services Division. “What better way to culminate a year focused on sustainability than to have our students graduate wearing gowns made from recycled materials.”

For every gown purchased, Oak Hall says it will make a contribution to Penn’s environmental efforts. This year, the contribution is designated for Penn’s Green Fund, which awards grants to students, staff and faculty to help implement sustainable projects on campus.

Originally published on March 18, 2010