Recycling of pre consumers garment Waste: importance, opportunities, and Challenges for Bangladesh

Mohammad Nurul Alam

The fashion industry is pushing the planet towards danger, its soil, and the environment this industry is second only to oil, one of the world’s largest polluters, responsible for 20% of global industrial water pollution to manufacturing garments. So the importance of recycling and reusing an existing garment or, in the case of textiles converting waste into reusable materials to create new garments is now global demand for sustainability. As Bangladesh is the second largest garment producer in the world, the possibility also goes to the country’s manufacturing unit to save the environment and walk towards sustainability. In this case, recycling pre-consumers’ garment waste can be the most significant opportunity to reuse them, save the environment, and earn money.

Research on Bangladesh RMG sector to recycle garment waste. 

Research led by Global Fashion Agenda, with partners Reverse Resources, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and which is supported by P4G, found that in 2019, Bangladesh produced approximately 577,000 tons of waste just from the ready-made garments (RMG) and fabrics mills of which almost half (250 thousand tons) was 100% pure cotton waste. It is estimated that factories in Bangladesh could sell this 100% cotton waste to the recycling market for up to 100 million USD.

Bangladesh is currently heavily reliant on the import of textile fiber. In 2019, the country imported 1.63 million tons of staple cotton fiber (estimated at 3.5 billion USD). Based on the Circular Fashion Partnership findings, if just 100% of cotton waste was recycled within Bangladesh, imports could decrease by around 15%, saving half a billion USD that would have been spent on cotton imports.

Event to promote circularity for sustainable RMG in Bangladesh

Recently The Nordic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) in Bangladesh organized an event titled ‘Promoting Circularity for a Sustainable Ready-Made Garment (RMG) industry in Bangladesh’ co-hosted with the Nordic Embassies in Dhaka – Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.

This event provided a platform for the brands and buyers to showcase their circular agenda and interact with relevant stakeholders, enabling policymakers to formulate progressive policies. The event also assisted manufacturers in better understanding the requirements of the buyers and aligning their business plans accordingly.

At the event, Mr. Salman F Rahman, M.P., Private Industry and Investment Adviser to the Honorable Prime Minister, spoke as Chief Guest and stated, “To remain ahead of the competition, Bangladesh must respond to the policy changes, technology innovation, trade, and finance context for the circular economy in the textile sector and proactively adapt to this changing demand by closing the loop.”

The Swedish Ambassador, Alexandra Berg von Linde, said in her opening remark on behalf of the Nordic Embassies that “Environmental sustainability has been a clear overarching priority for the Nordic countries for a long time – and it will continue to be key in our relations with Bangladesh going forward. The same goes for the Nordic companies that are seen as frontrunners regarding sustainability and innovation”.

Below opportunities lies for Bangladesh behind the circularity

1) Textile recycling is now a most extensive agenda for High-profile fashion brands.

Millions of tons of clothes are produced, worn, and thrown away in any place in the world each year. These clothes are either burnt or buried in landfill to destroy them, but the process of destruction is not scientific but rather a new concern to pollute soil and air.

The fashion industry is one of the significant contributors to garment waste in the land and oceans. So to solve the problem, fashion brands have to reinvent fashion itself.

It has been seen to show part of awareness that famous fashion brand H&M’s “Conscious Exclusive” line showcase clothes made from sustainable materials such as Tencel, organic cotton, recycled polyester, silk, and wool.

As Bangladesh is the second largest sourcing destination for RMG products globally, brands are putting a spot light on confirming the sustainable process in the production line, including recycling garment waste.

2) Consumers are also showing awareness of sustainability 

5.8 million tons of textiles that EU consumers discard every year, and According to Friends of the Earth Europe, only a quarter is recycled and the remaining 4.3 million tons are dumped into nature and create pollution.

Consumers feel fashion should go hand in hand with bio-degradable, sustainable, and recycled clothes. So fashion brands are setting ambitious targets for using recycled fibers from post-consumer textile streams in their garments to attract customers.

3) Lower the environmental impact of cotton production.

One kilogram of cotton production takes 10,000 liters of water, and global cotton production requires over 250 billion tons annually.43 million tons of pesticide-laden dust is blown into the air yearly to grow cotton.

So circulation of cotton in the apparel industry and products made from recycled cotton / other materials are the global demand from brands and consumers.

Save the soil and environment is the primary concern for sustainability, and responsibility goes to everyone who wears and buys, as well as retailers and manufacturers.

4) Bangladesh could save as much as $500 million annually if the cotton waste generated

This is an ample opportunity for Bangladesh to recycle the pre-consumers’ cotton waste produced by various RMG industries. So the opportunity has been taken by many of the millers in Bangladesh.

Ayesha Shefa, Director of Sustainability & Head of Marketing, Simco Spinning and Textiles Ltd. (CYCLO recycled fibers) said to textile focus – 

We are now fully operating in the recycled yarns business, ensuring upcycling of fabric mills cut clips waste. These wastes are mainly exported to different countries. SIMCO has ensured intervention and upscaled this to ensure that a circular economy is achieved as the clips waste and are resourcefully valorized within Bangladesh. Our business fluency also means we were able to grow and increase the employment of locals.

5)Numerous low-grade items could be made.

RMG apparel manufacturing waste could be used for insulation, mop heads, rags, and stuffing. Even the waste can be used as an alternative to foam in the seat cover in various vehicles and home furniture.

Even recycled garment is getting an increase in demand from various industries, such as the automotive industry and the building and construction industry.

Below challenges and barriers lies in the process of circularity

1) Various technical and technological gaps.

To recycle garment waste, manufacturers need updated technology to quickly transform and process them to make new raw materials for a recycled product.

But lack of technology and technical hand, Bangladesh is still unable to recycle the pre consumer’s cotton waste.

This has been seen as a significant barrier for textile mills because they are relatively complex systems containing various types of fibers, dyes, fillers, and additives, making them difficult to recycle into virgin-like raw materials.

2) Informal supply -chain for waste collected

In Bangladesh, there is no systematic waste management system by which pre-consumers’ cotton waste can be possible to collect for the recycling process rather the supply chain is managed by the people who are local and politically backed for illegal money earning.

Furthermore, it has been seen rival business parties often engage in deadly clashes to take control of the garment waste that produced by various RMG industries.

In this regard, the Bangladesh government should take a strong policy to set a waste management system to recycle and reproduce new products that can significantly help the environment and step towards sustainability.

3) Lack of policies and incentive

Bangladesh’s government has to extend its support in terms of policy and cash incentives to the industry planning to recycle garment waste produced by many of the country’s RMG factories.

Apart from the government, all the stakeholders should have come forward to set a strong policy for the waste management system. Solid associational activities from the recycling mill and other related bodies in the supply chain might exist.

4) Brands impose conditions for recycling sourcing but hardly negotiate prices.

Price is the primary concern in producing garments from recycled materials, whether it is yarn or accessories Brands are not ready to pay an additional price for the recycled manufacturing cost. Because cost-wise, recycled yarn or other materials may be typically more expensive than standard, virgin cotton yarn.

5) Quality of Recycle v verging cotton

As Bangladesh produces 76% cotton garments then, it also has to consider that cotton cannot be continuously recycled because it needs to be combined with other fibers to create new yarn so it will be quality-wise, strong, and durable. Because recycled cotton is not of good quality, it sometimes fails to meet different quality parameters. 

The other quality issue of recycled cotton is various undetermined composition that depends on what materials have been mixed in the pre-consumers’ garment waste due to the different property of the yarn the fabric quality becomes lower, and issues of evenness, less strength, and uniformity may happen.

In conclusion, Bangladesh apparel manufacturers need to consider waste produced in the RMG industry as a blessing to save the environment and step ahead to turn the challenges into opportunities.