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Apparel recycling is crucial for sustainability

  • Published at 08:39 pm September 23rd, 2021
Made in Bangladesh    The clothing tag on a shirt which is made in Bangladesh is shown after purchase from a Walmart store in Encinitas, California, May 14, 2013. REUTERS
The clothing tag on a shirt which is made in Bangladesh is shown after purchase from a Walmart store in Encinitas, California, May 14, 2013 Reuters

By 2050, three times the current number of natural resources will be needed to meet consumer demand

Setting up a sustainable and circular fashion industry, as well as introducing the habit of recycling and upcycling, are necessary to prevent the pollution created by fast fashion.

Experts said that the fashion industry has fallen into the trap of the fast fashion model, which leads to a hike in sales but comes at an ecological cost.

To save the world from the damage caused by fast fashion, it is high time to take proper initiatives, they also said.

As the second largest producer of RMG, Bangladesh can play a vital role in the recycling of pre-consumer and industrial textile wastage, the experts added.

Environmental cost of fashion industry

According to the recent data published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the fabric that the garment is made of consumes a lot of natural energy, space and water.

It takes about 700 gallons of water to produce a cotton shirt, which is enough for a person to drink at least eight cups a day for three-and-a-half years.

That is because the shirt is made from a highly water-intensive plant - cotton.

About 20% of the world's water is consumed by the fashion industry, the second largest consumer of the world’s water supply, said the WEF.

Moreover, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions.

Natural and non-natural energy is also being used to produce fabrics.

After a few months of wearing them, these clothes are quickly thrown away which contributes to polluting the environment in many ways by ending up in landfills, air pollution with transport, soil pollution, water pollution with dyes etc.

What about our used clothes?

According to the WEF, 85% of the used clothes go into the landfill each year, which either burns or contributes to landfills.

Another 12% of used clothes is used for downcycling like making cleaning clothes to clean utensils, furniture, glass or floor. And only 1% become upcycled, new clothes are made by processing it.

When new clothes are picked up in the stores, shoppers buy them but after a few months, it is seen that a number of shoppers are using these clothes. As a result, it is seen as outdated clothing, thus increasing clothing waste.


Also Read - We need to talk about unsold clothing


The solution

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), greenhouse gas and waste emissions for the fashion industry will increase by 60% by 2030.

By 2050, three times the current number of natural resources will be needed to meet consumer demand.

Sustainable fashion is one of the solutions to reduce this negative impact of fast fashion.

Bangladesh is now moving towards the sustainable fashion industry. Many factories of recycled production are being set up in the country.

Chittagong-based Denim Expert Ltd is one such factory which produces a large number of products through recycling.

Mohiuddin Rubel, director of the company and also one of directors of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said that they produce 95% sustainable denim by using at least 20% recycled post-consumed cotton.

“To boost the use of sustainable fabric, we urge brands to use hemp, bamboo, linen, lyocell, and ECOT400 fibre,” he added.

Moreover, to prevent industrial pollution, they also use alternative chemicals to potassium permanganate which are non-hazardous to the environment.

Apparel exporters say synthetic fibre is the future of the export-oriented garment sector for its sustainable and environment-friendly character.

Moreover, Bangladesh is the home of 40 out of the first 100 and total 145 LEED-certified green apparel factories.

Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said that since Bangladesh is a manufacturing country, pre-consumed and industrial pollution is more common there than post-consumed fashion pollution.

In this case, manufacturers can speak with buyers about higher prices for the products made with recycled fabric, he added.


Also Read - Bangladesh apparel industry could save $500m a year by recycling cotton


Moreover, a lot of false fabrics are thrown away which is filling the reservoir, again burning also increases the pollution. It is important to ensure their proper use, so foreign investment can also be called for, said the CPD research director.

Small initiative, big role

There are various uses for pre-consumed and post-consumed textiles, many initiatives can be taken. Such small initiatives can play a big role.

About 15% -20% of the waste in the garment industry is pre-consumed like false fabrics, defective fabrics or fabric samples, fabric fibers, extra fabrics and more.

This type of waste can be used to make various things.

Bangladeshi entrepreneur Mamunur Rahman is making Ella Pad with these false fabrics.

Initially, women garment workers used their own hand-made panties and pads during menstruation.

“Ella is pioneering in circular fashion and already globally appreciated as the best practice. Ella is successfully enhancing the image of Bangladesh garment internationally,” said Mamunur Rahman.

He also said that Ella Pad is focusing on circular fashion to reduce the emissions and save the environment. Ella is guiding the garment manufacturers to avoid their wastes and cut the pollution through designing out the products.

“To widen the use of Ella Pad, some policy issues need to be addressed. We need to have a circular economy policy in the country and need to have a linkage with large RMG factories and SMEs,” he added.

“Moreover, synthetic pre-consumer textile waste can be used to make a kind of sound proofing application.

From a personal level, these small initiatives may be important regulators to save the world.

As a result of fast fashion, wardrobes are being filled with new clothes but the world is becoming uninhabitable. In such a situation, an ordinary consumer can do many things.

Lifetime of a garment has to increase;a consumer has to wear one garment for a long time. The average lifetime of a garment is nearly 3 years.

Moreover, when the clothes become old, something new can be done by adding value to it.

Used clothing can be used to wipe furniture, glasses and floors. A garment can be transformed into another garment too,” he further said. 

Kantha-making is a common recycling in Bangladesh. It can be initiated commercially across the country to reduce the rate of dumping of used clothes.

However, new business models in fashion, such as circular and decent consumption must be adapted to match consumer needs while preserving resources and protecting the environment.

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