How to Recycle an Old Cap & Gown

by Rebecca Rogge ; Updated September 28, 2017

Commencement caps and gowns are a one-time use item.

Graduating Girl image by TMLP from

Every year, thousands of high school and college graduates across the world purchase caps and gowns to participate in their schools' commencement ceremonies. After one brief use, however, they often end up in the back of a closet, never again to see the light of day. These items can also be difficult to recycle, as they are often made from petroleum-based polyester and are purchased in school-specific colors and personal sizes. Fortunately, a little creativity can result in excellent ways to recycle these necessary but one-use items.

Pass the cap and gown on to a younger friend who can use it at a subsequent commencement ceremony. In addition to the environmental benefits, you can also score points with a friend who you just saved from the often-expensive cost of buying a cap and gown down the road. Before doing this, you may want to verify with the school that they are planning on using the same commencement attire at the ceremony that year. While this may be the simplest solution for you, it can be a minor hassle for your friend, however, who now has to store the items for an entire year.

Donate the cap and gown to your school or university. In some cases, they may get a credit for the items when they return them to the manufacturer. They may also have a program for assisting low-income students with commencement costs and be able to use the items to help someone who is disadvantaged. If your school doesn't have a program like this, consider donating the gown to a local charity service such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army to try to pass it on to someone in your community who might use it.

Use a recyclable gown. New green gowns are being produced from recycled plastic, sustainable bamboo, acetate, and other materials that are either biodegradable or made from already recycled materials. Offerings may vary by school; if your school is not currently offering a green gown option, consider petitioning them to do so -- they may be unaware of the option or student interest. Often the companies who distribute gowns like this to schools also offer a program to return the gowns for further recycling.


  • While standard caps and gowns are made from fabric, the fabric tends to be itchy and stiff and is, unfortunately, generally not suitable for re-use in other projects.

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About the Author

Based in northern Virginia, Rebecca Rogge has been writing since 2005. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Patrick Henry College and has experience in teaching, cleaning and home decor. Her articles reflect expertise in legal topics and a focus on education and home management.