Unlocking Bangladesh’s circular apparel industry – collaborative strategies and innovation at the forefront

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Bangladesh, the second largest readymade garment exporter in the world, is poised to embark on a transformative journey towards circularity in its industrial practices. Circularity presents a significant opportunity for Bangladesh to reduce its environmental impact, improve its economic performance, and create social benefits. However, embracing circularity also poses certain challenges for Bangladesh’s apparel industry that must be collectively considered and resolved.

To address this, an esteemed panel of industry leaders, policymakers, and experts in circular economies convened for the “Switch to Upstream Circularity Dialogue: Pre-consumer Textile Waste in Bangladesh” event at the Amari Hotel in Dhaka on September 3. The dialogue covered the strategies, policies, infrastructure, collaborations, and innovations necessary to build a thriving circular ecosystem in Bangladesh.

This event was organized under the Switch to Circular Economy Value Chains project (SWITCH2CE), co-funded by the European Union and the Government of Finland. SWITCH2CE is led by United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), in collaboration with Chatham House, Circle Economy, and European Investment Bank, and supports the switch to circularity in selected global value chains.

A diverse group of stakeholders attended, including brands, manufacturers, policymakers, and financial institutions.

Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bangladesh, and the Special Envoy to the Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for Climate Change, was present in the opening session as chief guest.

Faruque Hassan, President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) spoke at the opening session as a special guest. Dr. Bernd Spanier, Deputy Head of Mission, Delegation of European Union to Bangladesh, Mark Draeck, Chief Technical Advisor on SWITCH2CE at UNIDO and Holly Syrett, Director of Impact Programmes & Sustainability at Global Fashion Agenda also contributed to the event’s opening session. Hilde van Duijn, Head of Global Value Chains, Circle Economy, also participated in the event and made Circular Game Demonstration.

The event comprised two-panel discussions centered on critical topics such as the business model and incentives for various manufacturers in Bangladesh to proactively participate in circular ecosystems, the criteria for textile waste management processes to capture value in the country, and how to ensure the inclusion of, and collaboration with, current traders. The dialogue also shed light on the pivotal role of BESTSELLER and its collaboration with manufacturers in driving circularity and adopting recycled materials.

Mr. Faruque Hassan, President of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said, “Living in a world in our time where climate is most threatened, business as usual is no more an option. In a race to zero emission and resource decoupling, circularity emerges as the ‘next normal’ linking business and sustainable development. For BGMEA, circularity sits in the core of our values, mission and vision. Our goal is to help conserve the natural eco-system as much as possible via an economic shift from a linear to circular system, while generating greater social and economic values.”

Alexander Granberg, Senior Project Specialist, BESTSELLER “At this moment in time, everybody understands the need for new business practices in order to transition to a circular economy. Bangladesh is a key sourcing country for BESTSELLER, with many long-standing business partners, and that makes Bangladesh an obvious starting point for creating systemic changes in regard to waste segregation. Through our close relation, we know the importance of uniting all key stakeholders to find solutions that are both viable and beneficial for the entire industry. This substantial project can, via its relevant business case, ensure that our partners stay motivated throughout this transition.”

Federica Marchionni, CEO, Global Fashion Agenda, said, “The transformation to a circular economy requires collective efforts beyond the capabilities of any individual agent or company. Therefore, we are honoured to be coordinating this multistakeholder partnership between a group of esteemed organisations. True circularity can only be realised through proactive measures in manufacturing regions, and the resounding message from this event is that Bangladesh is poised to be the global leader in recycled materials, provided it effectively harnesses the potential of post-industrial waste. With increasing momentum in brand demand and legislations materialising globally, I am confident that Bangladesh can create an ecosystem to expedite this opportunity.”

Nin Castle, Chief Program Officer- Co-Founder, Reverse Resources, said “Increasing recycling capacity domestically represents an opportunity of substantial economic growth for the Bangladesh garment sector. This expansion will also enable the fulfilment of the growing demand for recycled products, reduce dependence on fibre imports, and achieve environmental targets.”

Mark Draeck, Chief Technical Advisor, “With the support of the European Union and the Government of Finland, UNIDO leads the global Switch to Circular Economy Value Chains project. In Bangladesh, we support the circular transition for the textile and garments industry, by piloting innovative circular solutions in close cooperation with global and national industry leaders, wuch as BESTSELLER, H&M and their manufacturers. These pilots will address acute challenges on new technology, business models and traceability, and will demonstrate the economic opportunity for circular approaches.The project also collaborates with government partners, academia, and NGOs to create an enabling environment for circularity through policy and tailored capacity building.”