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Recycled bottles become graduation gowns in Centereach

Peter Varth III, of Selden, and Shannon Coleman,

Peter Varth III, of Selden, and Shannon Coleman, of Centereach, try on the "green" graduation gowns their class will wear during the Centereach High School commencement in June. Each gown is made of 23 recycled plastic bottles. (March 27, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

When word spread throughout Centereach High School that the Class of 2012 would wear green graduation robes, it was met with some confusion.

The school’s colors are blue and white.

Concerns were put to rest on Tuesday, when class officers modeled their caps and gowns for the first time while the rest of the students were measured for their own.

The robes are bright blue in color, but "green" -- as in environmentally friendly -- in design.

The design is called Green Weaving, and each robe is made entirely of recycled plastic bottles -- about 23 per gown, said Gerry Fogarty, whose company, West Islip's Fogarty Enterprises, supplies the graduation caps and gowns for Centereach and other schools on Long Island.

With about 400 students in the graduating class, that’s more than 9,000 plastic bottles being put to a new use at Centereach High School alone.

“That’s just us,” said class president Peter Varth III, who with his fellow officers chose the green design. “Hopefully other schools will want to pick up on it.”

Varth, 17, of Selden, said the officers decided on the green robes immediately when they were presented with the option earlier this year. The gowns cost $3 more than a traditional polyester option, but he said they thought it would be worth it.

“It’s a way for us to give back,” he said. “It’s only a few dollars more in price and it’s taking the water bottles from the streets and landfills and putting it to use.”

Fogarty said the bottles are sterilized and undergo a heating process that turns them into fibers that can be used to create a fabric. The result is actually softer and more breathable than polyester, he said.

“We were worried they were going to be hard like plastic,” Varth said. “But these are really nice. I’ve had kids coming up to me just wanting to touch the gown to see how it feels.”

Fogarty said the first schools to use the new option were colleges, because initially they only came in black. He started offering colors last year, and Centereach is one of the first high schools to sign on. In June, about eight Long Island high schools will use the green gowns.

Tina Varth, a math teacher at the high school, graduation director and Peter Varth’s aunt, said the adults in the room during the Fogarty Enterprises cap and gown presentation immediately gravitated toward the idea of green materials, but said nothing until the students became excited about it as well.

Then, it was a matter of cost. They were worried not everyone in the school would be willing to pay extra for green.

“When they told us it was just $3 more, we said, ‘We can do that!’” she said.

She said that the entire school tries to be sustainable by recycling and paying attention to environmental issues, so they felt the students would be on board.

Senior Melanie Woerfel, 17, of Centereach, said she too initially thought the gowns might be the color green but was happy to realize that instead they were environmentally friendly.

“I think it’s a really good thing that we’re doing,” she said, adding that she doesn’t mind paying a little extra. “We go to Whole Foods and pay more for organic food, so why not?”

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