Recycling just got smarter

plastic water bottles

Green is the new black.

At CSU Monterey Bay's upcoming commencement ceremony, students will wear gowns sewn with material made entirely from recycled plastic bottles.

Several years ago, to stay in step with efforts by colleges and universities nationwide to "go green," Oak Hall Cap & Gown, a leading manufacturer of academic apparel, started making a line of graduation wear – named GreenWeaver – of fabric spun from molten plastic pellets. It takes an average of 23 bottles to make each gown.

When a company representative contacted campus commencement coordinator Phyllis Grillo to talk about the new product, Grillo was receptive.

"I thought students would appreciate the 'green' aspect," Grillo said. "And when I saw it, I thought the gowns had a better look and feel and a better quality than what we had been providing."

Students order their caps and gowns through the campus bookstore. "We brought the GreenWeaver regalia in as a collaboration with Phyllis," said bookstore manager Jimmy White, who added that the price is $2 cheaper than gowns made of polyester.

"When students learn about the recycled regalia, their first response is usually, 'It's so soft, I can't believe they're made from plastic bottles,' " White said.

An Oak Hall official told The Roanoke Times that its supplier first experimented with fabric made from bamboo. When that proved unsuccessful – easily wrinkled, the material quickly resembled a Shar-Pei – the supplier tried plastic.

After months of development and experimentation to see how well the yarn received dye and how it held up compared with traditional fabrics, GreenWeaver was deemed a success.

And as an added incentive, the company promises that for every gown purchased, it will make a contribution to a campus environmental group as designated by the university's administration.