According to a report, around 86 per cent of plastic water bottles used in the USA are dumped into the landfills, even if around 60 million water bottles are used daily in the country (US).
This effectively means around 18,834,000,000 bottles are dumped in the landfills every year. And, here we are talking only about USA! This leaves very little to imagination to comprehend the impact of plastic bottles — each plastic bottle can take up to 700 years to perish — on the environment in the global perspective.
Thankfully though, many entities are now coming forward to recycle the waste plastic bottles and create sustainable fashion. Green clothing gaining currency over time — green clothing refers to fabrics obtained from sustainable materials like hemp, bamboo or recycled plastic, etc.— and eco-conscious fashion finding a place in the mainstream fashion world, the menace of the plastic bottles on the environment will lessen gradually, feel many.
It is different question though that there are also those who believe clothes made from recycled plastic bottles are only ‘adding to fashion’s waste crisis’ and ‘flooding the natural environment with plastics’.
According to them, the practice of turning PET plastic bottles into clothing is nothing but ‘greenwashing’ and they have their reasons as to why do they think so.
Once turned into clothes, the plastic, they say, cannot be recycled further and ‘will instead be thrown away’, which means clothes are on a ‘one-way route’ to landfill, incineration or being dumped in nature.
The second biggest apparel exporter globally, Bangladesh could very well play a major role in this green clothing endeavour and, if reports are something to go by, the industry is already poised for it.
Squeezed by mounting price pressure and shrinking profit margins, garment makers are now looking at moving up the value chain and capture more market share of global value-added garment items such as activewear and outerwear.
And in this effort, they are keen on maintaining the focus on sustainable fashion given the popularity of green clothing. The global retailers and brands calling upon suppliers to use recycled plastic yarn in varying percentages consequent to consumers in the western world seeking garments made from recycled yarn so as to save the earth from plastic pollution, is only adding to the push, say industry insiders.
“Local mills collect plastic bottles and turn them into chips and yarn as the demand for plastic yarn is growing worldwide because of the comfort, durability and longevity of the dresses made from such raw materials,” says Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Bangladesh Textile Mills Association Monsoor Ahmed, adding buyers want suppliers to add at least 25 per cent to 30 per cent recycled plastic yarn to cotton yarn.
The biggest producer of yarn made from plastic bottles, China is apparently losing its appeal in Bangladesh owing to the rising production cost there.
Instead, the garment makers in Bangladesh are now scouting for other cost-effective destinations. This has led to as many as seven local mills in Bangladesh to invest around Taka 1,670.73 crore collectively to set up plants/revamp capacities to make flakes from waste plastic bottles,so as to manufacture recycled yarn and fabrics.
The BTMA, which is the apex textile mill owners’ body in the country, shared this vital piece of information.
Amongst the prominent names in this direction is Mymensingh-based Debonair Group.
After work remained stalled for good two years on account of COVID-19 pandemic, Debonair Group is hopeful its new plant will get into production this year itself if at all things go as per plans.
“Once production in the new plant starts, we are expecting to collect a significant quantity of plastic bottles from the domestic market,” states a proud Managing Director of the group Ayub Khan, who felt the group’s initiatives will only help add to the thrust to save the environment by reusing plastic bottles.
Currently, the Group imports around US $20 million worth of fibre and yarn made from plastic bottles, mainly from China, to make quilts, jackets, padding and outerwear for its buyers in the major apparel export strongholds of Europe and USA.
The company,reportedly,collects around 30 tonnes to 40 tonnes of plastic bottles daily from vendors to make chips.
Then there is the Manikjganj-based Mumanu Polyester Industries Ltd., which has a production capacity of 120 tonnes of yarn from plastic chips and fibres.
“…we are running half the capacity at present because of raw material shortage,” opines Abul Kalam Mohammad Musa, the Managing Director of the company.
Mumanu Polyester Industries Limited is one of the first in Bangladesh to produce and export polyester staple fibres (PSF) by recycling plastic bottles way back in 2017, only to increase production capacities lately before having to cut back in want of raw materials.
“Some years ago, I visited a PSF-producing factory in China.The technology there inspired me to set up the same plant in Bangladesh as millions of plastic PET bottles are affecting our environment for lack of recycling,”underlines the company’s MD who then adds China has lately imposed ban on importing bottle chips from Bangladesh.
But this hasn’t helped Mumanu’ scause much as raw material shortage continues to be major stumbling block towards utilising the full capacity.
More and more players getting into the fray could perhaps be a reason for this.
Then there is Zaber & Zubair Fabrics Ltd., which makes yarn and fabrics from the flakes of plastic chips imported from China.
Mokhlesur Rahman,senior executive for product development of the company, claims this adding the buyers from overseas select recycled yarn to be mixed with the woven fabrics before manufacturing apparel items.
Zaber & Zubair Fabrics now adds 25 per cent recycled yarn with the woven fabrics to get better price-points from its clientele.
“We import the fibre as per the requirement of international retailers and brands…,” adds a concerned official of Zaber & Zubair Fabrics, a sister concern of the Noman Group, which was incorporated in 1994 only to grow over the years to emerge a big name in sustainable offering and had been hosting its very own fabric fair twice a year – one for the Autumn/Winter season and another for the Spring/Summer season – for the last five years, successfully.
The Group’s apparel manufacturing units today make a considerable quantity of activewear and outerwear from the recycled plastic yarn even if it also buys recycled fibres from REPREVE,the globally-renowned brand of recycled performance fibres, made by recycling plastic bottles, collected from the ocean beds,to turn into fibres.
The increasing number of local players taking to producing recycled plastic fibres and yarn even if those already into it boosting their capacities,it seems is not sufficient yet to fulfil the demands.
To ensure, this doesn’t turn out to be major hiccup, the BTMA called upon the country’s National Board of Revenue (NBR) to waive off duty on imported recycled plastic fibre and yarn so that local producers can grab greater share of the global recycled garment market.
Having made a head-start already, the industry it seems does not want to lose steam now even if it means depending on overseas destinations for the time being till more local players join the bandwagon to fill in the vacuum.