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Fashion & Retail Sustainability

Waste to fashion

Food, clothing, and shelter are the three basic requirements of a man. The worldwide textile and apparel sector is destined to be massive, as it satisfies man’s second most basic need. However, the human need to seem attractive and wear glamorous clothing has unfortunately resulted in environmental damage. Textile manufacturing is one of the most polluting businesses on the planet.

Figure 1: Still from the documentary film “The True Cost” of a landfill filled with textile waste. Courtesy: http://truecostmovie.com/christina-dean-interview/

In Southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh, textile waste is a major polluter. Bangladesh has a huge chance to recycle cotton waste because readymade garment (RMG) industries and textile mills generate a lot of it. Several programs have been launched around the world to help the textile-recycling industry thrive by gathering and repurposing post-production fashion waste and discarded garments to create new fashion goods.

Every aspect of our take-make-waste system must be transformed, including how we manage resources, how we produce and utilize things, and what we do with the materials afterward. Only then will we be able to build a vibrant circular economy that benefits everyone while remaining within the boundaries of our planet.

Sustainable fashion: Circular economy

According to the most recent fashion industry figures, the global apparel market is predicted to rebound and rise from $527.08 billion in 2020 to $635.17 billion in 2021. Simultaneously, both customers and brands are becoming more conscious of the significance of sustainable fashion.

According to a survey published by the Textile Exchange, global fiber production per person climbed from 8.4 kg in 1975 to 14 kg in 2020.

Textile waste accounts for about 5% of the total landfill area, according to research. Textile treatment and dyeing also contribute 20% of all freshwater pollution. As a result, for long-term viability, the industry must endeavor to reduce its carbon footprint and adopt circular economy concepts to deal with the pollution it causes and the resulting climate change.

One of the most important processes in the circular economy idea is RECYCLING. Used materials or pre-consumed waste from the textile manufacturing process are repurposed to create new items. It reduces the use of fresh raw materials, energy consumption, air pollution, and water pollution (from landfilling).

The status of Bangladesh’s textile waste

Bangladesh’s readymade garment exports climbed by 12.55 percent to $31.456 billion in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, compared to $27.949 billion the year before. This was, however, less than the $34.133 billion in exports made in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Bangladesh bought 7.6 million bales of cotton from around the world to meet its demand in the fiscal year 2018-19.

According to BTMA figures, the country spends US$ 3.5 billion on cotton imports each year.

According to BGMEA data, cotton made up 74.14 percent of the $34.133 billion in locally manufactured RMG commodities exported in the previous fiscal year (FY ’19).


In 1998, the RMG sector estimated 16 percent wastage in all phases of manufacturing, from cotton to yarn to fabric to finished items for export. The industry now requires a rate of 40%, implying that their waste has increased by 150 percent in the last two decades. When technology has progressed and the fashion industry has begun to move toward zero waste.

However, the reality is far worse; due to the improvement in product quality for fashion brands and growth in stylish products, the percentage of wastage from raw materials to finished products has risen up to 60% in some cases. Among this wastage most of it can be utilized in the recycling process; like the wastages from Spinning (15% from combing), Knitting (0.5-1.2%), Finishing (1-2%) & Cutting (5-20%) are recyclable.

Figure 2: Contribution of different textile processing units in Total Textile waste.

However, a small portion of these wastages is reused in making low-end garments for the local markets. Some extent it is utilized as an insulator or filler in mattresses, furniture, rags, and other items in some situations, although the majority of it ends up in landfills. One of the biggest causes of soil pollution is overcrowding in landfills.

Bangladesh has the potential to be the textile recycling leader in the world

With 2.5 billion pounds of textile waste ending up in landfills each year worldwide, the textile industry is one of the world’s most polluting industries. According to Fashion Revolution, we now buy 400% more clothing as a society than we did 20 years ago. This existing paradigm is unsustainable, and making better purchasing decisions is critical for our industry’s survival. However, this is a very serious problem at a time when the earth’s precious resources are being used up in deplorably unsustainable ways.

Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest RMG exporter, heavily relies on cotton for textile production. When it comes to cellulosic-based fibers, there will be a significant gap between demand and available supply as worldwide demand for textile fibers grows. The use of post-production and post-consumer cotton as a raw material could help to bridge this gap.

Remanufacturing waste from one cycle of production into the next presents practical obstacles, but recycling waste from one cycle of production into the next has a lot of financial potential in the country’s clothing industry.

This regenerated yarn has the ability to lessen our reliance on foreign raw materials while also assisting us in reducing the negative environmental effects of industrial pollution. In addition, as people become more conscious of the detrimental consequences of industrial pollution on the environment, it may be able to grab a growing market in developed countries.

According to the findings of the Circular Fashion Partnership, if 100% cotton waste were recycled within Bangladesh, imports would drop by 15%, saving $500 million that would have been spent on cotton imports.

Raw materials created from recycled content generally cost less, making their use attractive and desirable to manufacturers. Preferred fiber now accounts for less than a fifth of the worldwide fiber market. Pre- and post-consumer recycled textiles accounted for less than 0.5 percent of the worldwide fiber market. This, in turn, leads to the development of more markets for preferred or recycled fibers, such as:

  1. Sustainable alternative of Conventional or Organic material
  2. Replacement of imported Mélange yarn
  3. Replacement of imported Sweater yarn
  4. Footwear industry
  5. Non-woven industry
  6. Sustainable packaging development
  7. Viscose made with recycled cotton
  8. Dye extraction/Sustainable dye development
  9. Technical textile field, etc.

If you want to become self-sufficient in any field, you need a large supply of raw materials, and recycling cotton or recycling bi-products can open up these sectors for our textile industry.

Bangladesh’s spinning sector’s future is in recycling

Amid a skyrocketing international cotton market, RECYCLING can be a ray of hope for the spinners of Bangladesh.

A number of intermediaries currently trade textile waste sold by garment units, before reaching jhoot exporters. The scraps are then exported to India and China for a cheaper price as they have recycling technology in place to transform the waste into finer or fancy yarns like mélange yarns. As the textile scraps come in a variety of colors and compositions, those spinners do not need to use any dyes or chemicals to color the fiber, which reduces a huge amount of production cost and environmental pollution for them compared with conventional fiber dyed yarn production. In order to produce a product of export grade, we are dependent on those countries’ spinners and ultimately the product from our textile waste are then exported to us at a significant cost from those countries. In the business world, this makes no sense because we are losing millions by this down cycling.

Waste will undoubtedly occur at various stages of manufacturing when designs are cut out, sewn, and dyed, even if the country’s 4,500 active garment units improve their efficiency and make better use of materials. According to a recent study, the overall amount of annual leftovers from the county’s garment units is around 400,000 tons, according to Reverse Resources, an Estonian software business. It will be a $4 billion business if these scraps are recycled to make new yarns and used in remanufacturing clothing. On the other side, it will cut virgin material imports, which will have a benefit on total revenue.

To be recycled, all textile waste must be sorted. When compared to a disordered sorting process, well-organized sorting ensures a higher yield from the same raw materials, however, this part lacks focus. The sorting procedure is currently labor-intensive and labor prices in Bangladesh are lower than in other nations, as a result, there will be more employment opportunities in this industry.

Currently, sorting is done manually, but we need to investigate the feasibility of using automation sorting in order to efficiently manage the larger volumes of textile wastes required for recycling (particularly chemical recycling). This automatic sorting system requires material categorization detectors, which means new detection methods and textile tagging.

Today, there is demonstration-scale production, and regenerated cotton fibres are blended with virgin cotton fibre threads to provide the required strength quality, with a mix of 20% regenerated and 80% virgin. Chemical recycling of cotton fibres, i.e. the usage of chemicals to reformulate the fibres, is currently done on a lab scale. In Asia, though, polyester recycling is already in full swing that can be another market for us after recycling cotton.

Recycle cotton on the market today is of inferior quality when compared to the other options. To improve the quality of recycled fiber and build an acceptable traceability system, more research is required. Because sustainability entails a long product life cycle, we must deliver the highest possible quality product in recycled and recyclable materials.

To be a leader in the fast fashion sector, one must have quick shipping, shorter lead times & competitive price. Recycling cotton will have that edge because spinners will not have to depend on the imported raw materials and the recycled cotton price is cheaper than the available sustainable cotton price. If intermediaries are avoided in the acquisition of textile waste from garment units to spinning mills, the price of recycled cotton can be reduced. Lower raw material costs benefit spinners greatly because source material costs account for the majority of yarn manufacturing expenses. Traceability will also be easier because the raw materials are sourced from local garment units, as opposed to imported sustainable cotton, which is solely dependent on documentation.

If we can produce high-quality recycled cotton from pre-consumer textile waste, the idea could be replicated in the recycling of post-consumer apparel, which could be a large market and help reduce emissions in the fashion sector as a whole.

Environmental benefits of recycling

The UN Environment Programme in 2019 put the fashion industry’s share of global carbon emissions at 10 percent – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined – and said it was the second-biggest consumer of water.

Bangladesh – a low-lying nation considered highly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as intensifying floods, storms and sea-level rise – is the world’s second-largest producer of clothes and its economy depends heavily on the garment industry. Although the $4 billion recycling sector appears to be little, the environmental impact cannot be overlooked.

Author: Irin Akter, Global Technical Manager, Material & Testing, G-Star RAW.

Cotton recycling prevents unneeded wastage and can be a more sustainable alternative to disposal. Cotton is an extremely resource-intense crop in terms of water, pesticides and insecticides. This means that using recycled cotton can lead to significant savings of natural resources and reduce pollution from agriculture. Recycling one ton of cotton can save 765 cubic meters (202,000 US gallons) of water.

On a daily basis, the efficient use of natural resources and the recovery of recoverable wastes is becoming more important, as the waste recovery has both economic and environmental benefits. It would cut carbon emissions from clothing production and demand for raw materials, which include fossil fuels, by slimming down the amount of waste and increasing the use of recycled materials over virgin materials.

Recycling textile waste may not save the world, but it is a vital step toward reducing landfill waste. Closed loops and shifted mindsets have resulted in a systematic transformation in fashion.

If anyone has any feedback or input regarding the published news, please contact: info@textiletoday.com.bd

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