Bangladesh is the second largest supplier of apparels globally after China, and as such, it holds a very vital position in the realm of apparel manufacturing and export with brands and retailers across geographical locations sourcing from the country.
So, given the volume of apparel items the industry churns out every year, it has been found that the rate of wastage in the industry is also pretty high even as in 2019, garment and fabrics mills produced around 577,000 tonnes of waste, almost half of which was 100 per cent pure cotton waste.
It may be mentioned here that according to the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, by 2030, the fashion industry is predicted to increase its water consumption by 50 per cent, and its carbon footprint will increase to 2,790 million tonnes while fashion waste is predicted to hit 148 million tonnes and the situation can get worse depending on the consumers. Although the fashion industry has shown some seriousness towards sustainability in the recent decade, the real power is with the consumers and, with respect to the same, one has to acknowledge the growing focus on sustainability amongst the end users lately.
Today’s fashion is all about choosing eco-friendliness, sustainability and socially right clothes, keeping with which brands are innovating new ways every day to make fashion more ethical even as consumers are also moving towards brands that serve them the best quality without harming the environment and the planet during the manufacturing process and expectedly so, manufacturers have to tune their manufacturing systems and processes that now have to live up to the expectations of the end users. And Bangladesh, considering its reputation and standing in supply chain, cannot lose sight of the same.
It may be mentioned here that the survey, Consumer sentiment on sustainability in fashion, by McKinsey last year — McKinsey & Company is an American worldwide management consulting firm, founded in 1926 by University of Chicago Professor James O. McKinsey, that advises on strategic management to corporations, Governments and other organisations — underlined that engagement in sustainability has deepened during the COVID-19 crisis.
Hence, European consumers want fashion players to act responsibly and consider the social and environmental impacts of their businesses even as it maintained that two-thirds of surveyed consumers stated that it has become even more important to limit impacts on climate change while additionally, 88 per cent of respondents believe that more attention should be paid to reducing pollution even if in practice, consumers have already begun changing their behaviour accordingly. Of all the consumers surveyed, 57 per cent have made significant changes to their lifestyles to lessen their environmental impact, and more than 60 per cent report going out of their way to recycle and purchase products in environmental-friendly packaging while 67 per cent consider use of sustainable materials to be an important purchasing factor.
In the given context, it has become even more paramount for the industry to adhere to sustainable manufacturing practices and reduce wastages and Bangladesh, it seems, can do a lot in this regard while also saving a significant amount of money by recycling wastes, which makes more business sense, considering the existing scenario where overheads and raw material cost are going up by the day even as the profit margins have become wafer thin.
According to a study, the country can save a massive US $ 500 million a year by recycling the cotton waste from garment factories and textile millers, which produce a huge quantity of leftovers of the key raw material.
As per the study carried out by the Circular Fashion Partnership, if 100 per cent of cotton waste is recycled in Bangladesh, imports could decrease by around 15 per cent, therefore saving half a billion US Dollars that would have been spent on cotton imports even as it is estimated that factories could sell the cotton waste to the recycling market for up to US $ 100 million.
The Circular Fashion Partnership is a cross-sectorial project led by the Global Fashion Agenda, in partnership with Reverse Resources and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), which aims to support the development of the textile recycling industry in Bangladesh by capturing and directing post-production fashion waste back into the production of new fashion products.
Infinited Fibre Company is one of the over 30 renowned fashion brands, manufacturers and recyclers collaborating in the Circular Fashion Partnership, which aims to achieve a long-term, scalable transition to a circular fashion system which counts amongst the participants global brands like Bershka, Bestseller, C&A, Gina Tricot, Grey State, H&M Group, Kmart Australia, Marks & Spencer, OVS, Pull & Bear, Peak Performance and Target Australia.
The focus of the partnership is on developing and implementing new systems to capture and direct post-production fashion waste back into the production of new fashion products. It is also seeking solutions for the COVID-19 related pile-up of dead stock, and to engage regulators and investors around the current barriers and economic opportunities in Bangladesh.
It may be mentioned here that Bangladesh has the most in-demand and recyclable waste of any garment producing country and most of its waste is, however, currently being exported and/or downcycled and by scaling the recycling capacity in the country and generating more value from these waste streams, it is possible to make Bangladesh a leader in circularity. Following the hardships in the country generated by the pandemic, this approach also aims to build industry resilience for the future.
It may be mentioned here that Bangladesh heavily relies on imports for textile fibre and imported around 1.63 million tonnes of staple cotton fibre worth about US $ 3.5 billion in 2019.
“The sustenance of the planet is now at risk, and we cannot stay indifferent. We have to shift the linear economic model to circular,” said BGMEA President Faruque Hassan, adding, “This is the future, and we are committed to closing the loop while achieving our strategic growth targets,” even as the Chief Executive Officer of the Global Fashion Agenda, Federica Marchionni underlined, “In order for fashion to continue to prosper within planetary boundaries, we need to embrace the opportunities of a circular economy urgently,” while adding, “Using the Reverse Resources technology platform, we have been able to map participants’ textile waste to grasp its scale and quantify the economic opportunity of closing the loop.”
It may be mentioned here that a circular economy is a systemic approach to economic development designed to benefit businesses, society and the environment.
Meanwhile, the Chief Project Officer of Reverse Resources, Nin Castle maintained that Bangladesh produced arguably the most recyclable textile waste of any apparel producing country even as with the emergence of new and improved versions of existing recycling technologies, Bangladesh has a huge opportunity to scale its local recycling capacity and reduce its dependency on virgin raw materials.
If a recycling industry is fostered now, it will enable the country not only to enjoy the obvious benefits of cost and carbon footprint reduction but also gain a massive competitive edge, Castle stated.
In light of the views and opinions as expressed by the experts and industry insiders, garment manufacturers would do well to take appropriate and effective steps to recycle the wastes during the production process, after all recycling and reuse is the name of the game in today’s world of sustainable fashion.