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25 plastic bottles: SU students wear recycled materials on graduation day

Ellen Abbott
A Syracuse University graduation gown- made entirely out of plastic bottles.

The gowns may be blue, and Syracuse University's color may be orange, but commencement at the Carrier Dome this weekend will definitely have a green feel to it.  Commencement gowns are the latest environmental initiative on graduation day.

Soon-to-be SU graduates pick up their caps, gowns and tassels at the Schine Student Center this week. What many didn't know was that the gowns they'll wear when they collect their diploma this weekend at the Carrier dome are made of recycled plastic bottles.

Twenty-five plastic bottles make up each graduation gown.

Matt Streeter is impressed. "I think it's a great thing. I think to be as sustainable as you can is beneficial to society," Streeter said.

Micheala Shaw shared the news with her friends on social media. "I put it on my Facebook status. I think it's really neat," Shaw said.

Some schools have been incorporating recycled graduation gowns for a few years now, but SU had to wait until its next three-year gown contract cycle was up says  Susan Germain, executive director of special events at SU.

She's glad they waited.

"Three years ago when we looked at it, they were not the fabric we wanted.  They were like those kids pajamas with fire retardant on them.  This year, they are even nicer than traditional gowns," Germain said.

Germain says they carefully looked at the six vendors who offer the gowns and settled on a Herrf Jones fabric that uses a material called repreve.  The material is certified as being made 100 percent from post-consumer waste.

"It's a soft fabric … whatever they've done it's nice cloth, and it doesn't wrinkle when you shake it," Germain said.

Veronica Abrou felt her gown at Schine Center and agrees. "I actually expected it to be worse. I thought it would be like paper or something but it's actually pretty cool," Abrou said.

In the end, the more than 4,000 undergraduate and masters graduates from SU and SUNY ESF will represent 100,000 recycled bottles that escaped the waste stream.

The other earth-friendly aspect, according to Germain, is that students can recycle the gowns after graduation.

"If the kids don't want to keep their caps and gowns ... there will be boxes in the dome and they'll be recycled again. It's a wonderful process," Germain said.

That's a good idea for some, like Streeter. "I was actually talking to a girl in line about this. I don't know what I'll do with this after that day. It might be cool to keep it, but I'll probably just recycle it," Streeter said.

But not everyone will be recycling. Abrou won't.

"I'm taking it with me ... memories," Abrou said.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.