graduationcaps.jpg The words “graduation” and “sustainability” do not often go together, even though they certainly could. Throughout May and June, thousands of students will graduate from schools and programs, from elementary to PhD levels. Most people – if wanting to keep their graduations green – focus on the party, making sure to have recycling bins around and avoiding Styrofoam plates and cups. But what about the idea of making the ceremony itself more eco-friendly?

What are the environmental impacts of graduation ceremonies?

People may not realize it, but the gowns proud grads wear as they walk across the stage are actually not that environmentally friendly. Nearly all graduation gowns are made from PET, a petroleum-based chemical compound that does not biodegrade. Since most people only use their gown once, over 5 million are sent to landfills every year. This is creating a unique environmental crisis that the millions of students across the country may have no idea about. In addition to the problem of millions and millions of gowns scattered around landfills, there is also the fact that these gowns are made from PET. According to estimates, it takes 3.2 million gallons of oil to produce the 5.5 million graduation gowns that are distributed every year. The reliance on oil – a non-renewable substance – affects not only the current supplies but also parts of the world where Big Oil are considering developing, endangering local eco-systems and wildlife.

What can students do to make their graduation more sustainable?

There is a misconception among many students that they must purchase their cap and gown through their school’s official vendor. However, this is not always the case, and there are other ways to look great for graduation and save money while being eco-friendly. Some families keep their gowns for younger generations to wear when they graduate, especially if they go to the same school. Many colleges also may have a few spares on hand for students who may not be able to afford the cost of a new gown. Another great option for students to both order and recycle their graduation gowns is GreenerGrads. The organization’s goal is to make graduation season more eco-friendly by collecting, reusing and recycling gowns. GreenerGrads collects about 1 million gowns per year, steam sanitizing them in order to be used again by another student who can rent the gown and then return it. On average, each gown GreenerGrads obtains is reused 12 times. If the gowns are no longer wearable, they are properly recycled to be made into lining and stuffing for several different products.

What else can be done?

As mentioned earlier, most people do not think about making graduations more Earth-friendly. Since there are thousands of students walking across stages every year in PET gowns, with an audience full of well-wishers ready to party, there are definitely ways to improve the sustainability factors of the season. Encourage friends and family members to carpool to the graduation venue and make sure the celebration has plenty of Earth-friendly products involved: plates, tablecloths and everything else. And do not forget about the options available for an eco-friendly ceremony via a recycled or reused gown. By wearing a used gown or obtaining one from a recycling service such as GreenerGrads, you will be saving money and helping to protect the earth. Utilizing these services helps lessen the reliance on petroleum-based products and keeps dangerous and toxic chemicals out of the dump. Be proud of the fact that you graduated – and helped the Earth while doing it. For more information on Greener Grads and how to responsbily recycle graduation gowns, visit its website by clicking here.