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University of Pennsylvania Graduating Students to Wear Gowns and Caps Made From Recycled Plastic Bottles

Plastic water and soda bottles that are said to last forever in a landfill will instead grace the 2,500 or so University of Pennsylvania graduating seniors next spring as their commencement caps and gowns.

The GreenWeaver line of regalia by Oak Hall Cap & Gown, a Virginia manufacturer of academic apparel, is Penn’s latest greening effort. Under a recent agreement with the company, Penn will adorn its Class of 2010 seniors in gowns and caps made of 100 percent, post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.

“Penn will begin this academic year announcing our Climate Action Plan, the long-range strategy to reduce our carbon footprint,” Marie Witt, vice president of business services, said. “Part of that effort is to partner with vendors that promote eco-friendly options. What better way to culminate a year focused on sustainability than to have our students graduate wearing gowns made from recycled materials.”

With some 60 million plastic bottles going into U.S. landfills every day, the company said regalia made of recycled materials offers colleges and universities a chance to turn trash into keepsakes. Traditionally, Penn baccalaureate degree recipients purchase their caps and gowns and keep them as mementos.

The fabric will be spun from molten plastic pellets, with an average of 23 bottles needed to make each gown. Recycled plastic bottles are already used to make sweatshirts and other clothing, the company said, and the result is apparel virtually indistinguishable in color, feel or fit from traditional polyester material.

Penn students receiving advanced degrees as well as faculty, trustees and others involved in commencement will continue to wear rented regalia.

For every gown purchased, Oak Hall said it will make a contribution to a campus environmental group. At Penn, the contributions will be designated for the University’s Green Fund.

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