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RCCC uses recyclable caps and gowns

SALISBURY – If it suits them, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College graduates can put their caps and gowns straight in the recycling bin after they have been used.

The caps and gowns are all made from recycled plastic bottles, and they can be recycled.

They are supplied by manufacturer Oak Hall, a Virginia-based company that specializes in graduation regalia. The company has recycled more than 181 million bottles for use as the fabric in gowns.

It counts a number of North Carolina colleges and universities as its clients, including Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The NuHorizon gowns have been worn by RCCC graduates since 2018. Each cap and gown is made out of 23 to 27 bottles.

The materials are sewn together in Virginia, but the yarn for the gowns is made in North Carolina. The company also supplies religious and judicial gowns, and is the gown supplier for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oak Hall Carolinas Regional Manager Mike Merritt said the material is actually lighter and cooler than the polyester the company also offers, so many students prefer the recycled material for comfort, but generally interest from students is directed toward the sustainability of the gowns.

Students can recycle the gowns and also turn them back in via collection boxes to be turned into other products.

Merritt said it is difficult to hire people who can sew the material as needed. Many of the people the company hires have a family connection to each other and stick around because the company takes good care of them, he said.

The materials, including the zippers, are all U.S. supplied as well.

“We’re proud of that fact because the textile industry has not been doing well for some time,” Merritt said.

RCCC Events and Logistics Director Dusty Saine said the gowns are just one way the college tries to go after sustainable options. He said the cost of the regalia is the same, but in other areas such as buying office supplies the college looks for recycled and compostable products and even considers the types of plants it keeps on campus.

The college also tries to save water with efficient faucets and toilets, generates power with solar arrays and asks for sustainable options for construction projects.

Saine said he is part of a sustainability committee on campus. It started an initiative to encourage employees making purchases to ask for sustainable products options.

On the part of the students, Saine said, there are a few who are environmentally conscious and ask about the recycled regalia, but the college does not advertise it heavily to students.

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