Monica, a TEA volunteer and an undergraduate student in her final year at U of T, was curious about how the convocation robes are cleaned and if toxic substances are used in the process. Here's what she discovered.
In light of Coming Clean, Going Green, a project TEA has developed to create consumer demand for wet cleaning, I decided to investigate large scale cleaning operations, starting with the convocation robes at the University of Toronto. I wanted to first find out how the robes are cleaned, and, if they are dry cleaned, take steps to campaign for a greener alternative.
As per my findings, Gaspard Inc. ensures that every student has a clean robe for convocation. Cleaning is done with water only, where high pressure steam disinfects the gowns after each use. Other items, such as hoods, are laundered using phosphate-free soap and water. U of T's convocation robes, at least robes designated for finishing undergraduate students, do not require Gaspard Inc. to dry clean them, a process which uses hazardous chemicals such as Perc (perchloroethylene).
Gaspard Inc. provides convocation robes for many universities across Canada, including OCAD University and Ryerson. It must be kept in mind that while most fabrics used by Gaspard Inc. are washable with regular soap and water, fabrics like satin (used in more elaborate hoods and gowns) call for dry cleaning only.
While I am very happy that students are provided with robes that are cleaned in a non-toxic manner, this is not a conversation about convocation robes alone. Wet cleaning school and work uniforms, prom wear and other regalia, instead of dry cleaning them, is just the start.
The broader dialogue revolves around finding innovative ways to make your school, workplace or home, a healthier environment. We often forget that we are constantly immersed in the environment. Activities that are normalized in society, like dry cleaning, are harmful to those using the service, those partaking in the cleaning process and our air quality.
Taking the initiative to learn about local environmental issues and directly engaging with that information to investigate its impacts in your own life is one of the first steps to bringing about meaningful change.