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The Daily Tar Heel

Seniors sport environmentally-friendly graduation gowns

In addition to donning the traditional Carolina blue at tomorrow’s graduation ceremony, UNC seniors will wear robes this year that also feature a new shade — green.

Made entirely from post-consumer plastic bottles, the seniors’ graduation gowns are more environmentally friendly than in past years, said John Gorsuch, director of Student Stores. He said each gown is produced from about 23 bottles, depending on the length of the gown.

The gowns were produced as the result of a collaboration with Oak Hall Cap & Gown and have been made of sustainable materials since 2011. Vice President Donna Hodges said the company has been producing environmentally-friendly gowns, known as GreenWeaver gowns, since 2009.

After experimenting with bamboo, Hodges said the company decided to use plastic bottles because it didn’t create as many wrinkles. She said t the gowns are lightweight to provide comfort on graduation day.

Of the two million caps and gowns the company produces each year, Hodges said more than 600,000 of them are made from recycled plastic bottles. She said more than 14 million plastic bottles have been used to manufacture the GreenWeaver gowns.

“Not only do you have the advantage that you’re taking something out of a landfill, but they also use recycled energy,” she said.

The recycling doesn’t stop there. Hodges said seniors who do not want to keep their gowns have the option of recycling them, where they can be used to make carpets.

Hodges said the process of manufacturing the gowns is local — plastic bottles from around the country are cleaned and melted together at a plant in North Carolina, and then formed into pure plastic pellets to make fiber.

The fiber is then sent to another plant in South Carolina where it is woven into fabric that is finally sent to the company’s facility in Roanoke, Virginia. It is there, Hodges said, that the fabric is cut and made into its GreenWeaver gowns.

“It does mean a lot to have something produced in the U.S.A. but to have a more local presence in the Carolinas and Virginia,” Hodges said. “We’re trying to do our part and do everything we can to keep the textile industry alive in the South.”

But the University’s gowns have something that makes them unique from other GreenWeaver gowns — Gorsuch said they are the only collegiate designer gowns in the country.

He said the University was approached by local designer Alexander Julian, who offered to redesign the gowns with a true Carolina blue free of charge.

“He wanted it to look right,” Gorsuch said. “His critique of the old gown was that it wasn’t the right shade of blue.”

The designer gowns first appeared in 2011 and have special features, including a white panel down the front. They were priced at $54.99 in 2011, a $5 increase from the previous year. The gowns currently cost $59.99.

Senior Jasmine Thompson said she likes the environmentally-friendly gowns but wishes they had been advertised more effectively.

“I think a lot of people would take pride in that if it was more well known,” she said.

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