From Trash To Keepsakes: Graduation Gowns Take Recycling to the Next Level

Tuesday, November 30 2010

Written by Amanda Cairo

MOSCOW, Idaho – As students walk across the commencement stage Dec. 11, a fresh set of graduates will head out into the world not only in style – but with a green conscience and a different perspective from using sustainable gowns.

“With the ability to transform a waste product into a usable commodity, our society stands a better chance of sustainable survival,” said Scott Hurlbert, who is graduating with a master of accountancy degree. "U-Idaho transformed me into a potentially prosperous professional in the same fashion as old plastic is turned into a new source, graduation gowns."

“The metamorphosis of the plastic water bottle into the usable commodity of a graduation gown is symbolic of the transformation all students experience at U-Idaho. Think about where you started and look at where you are now,” Hurlbert noted.

The University of Idaho solicited bids for cap and gown services this year and contracted with Oak Hall Cap and Gown. Graduates will wear regalia made with GreenWeaver fabric, which is produced from recycled plastic water bottles, with the University of Idaho seal embroidered in gold.

On average, each robe will keep 23 plastic water bottles from ending up in the landfill. According to Oak Hall’s website, as of March 1, 2010, 3.5 million plastic bottles have been reclaimed from landfills to produce the GreenWeaver regalia.

“As one of the university’s initiatives, we were looking for something to promote sustainability,” said Tim Helmke, who headed the committee that chose the new gowns. “It’s great that the option was also the most inexpensive and it is good quality. This really sets us apart.”

While upholding the university’s sustainable mission, committee members were surprised by the quality of the fabric. In fact, Registrar Nancy Krogh said it was the nicest fabric they came across in their search. Since this is the first year using the gowns, Helmke said they are sewn to order in the U.S. by American workers.

“We were really impressed by the quality of these robes,” said Krogh. “It is important to show graduates and the world how unique the university and its students are.”

Students also have the choice to keep their gowns or recycle them for use by future graduates.

“I think that the university using graduation gowns made from recycled plastic bottles is going in a great direction for a sustainable environment,” said Lizzy Braun, who will walk across the stage in December for a degree in business marketing.

For the doctoral regalia, the university also is making a few changes. The gowns will not be made from the GreenWeaver fabric, but high-quality velvet and wool that can be either rented or purchased. They also will be custom made in silver to showcase Vandal pride.

“We know that our doctoral students are amazing people, and this is just one more way to show what sets them apart,” said Krogh.

To further support sustainability efforts, for every gown purchased, Oak Hall will make a $0.25 donation to an on-campus sustainability program.
# # #

About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation classification for high research activity. The student population of 12,302 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions. For more information, visit

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit