In Bangladesh, Circularity Gets New Focus for Supply Chains

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In a divergence from what’s previously been the norm in Bangladesh, industry leading apparel players gathered to discuss a critical supply chain factor other than costs: circularity.

Local representatives from Inditex, H&M, Walmart, Marks & Spencer and Carrefour recently assembled for a first of its kind ‘Close the Loop’ seminar in Dhaka, to discuss Bangladesh’s progress in sustainability, particularly as it pertains to recycling fabric waste from the substantial amount of apparel manufacturing that takes place in the country.

And SIMCO, a manufacturer that first brought a mechanical process for scrap recycling to Bangladesh in order to make its Cyclo recycled yarns, may have helped set a movement in motion.

The company uses small, colored pieces of cotton scraps leftover from garment production, maintains the color through the fiber regeneration process, then spins the yarn, effectively eliminating the need for additional dye—or the water needed to dye it. Without demand for dye or water, the cost of the yarns come down.

“The pendulum is almost swinging completely to the side of sustainability and circularity from a corporate CSR story,” Mustafain Munir, director of Cyclo at SIMCO Spinning said. “Brands want to be able to say ‘this sweater or hoodie has been made using the recycled fiber from the waste of our own T-shirts.’ This is the goal, and with Cyclo it is something that has already begun on a massive scale in Bangladesh, with traceability being the final piece.”

In Bangladesh, however, the pendulum hasn’t yet swung quite as far as those keen on sustainability and circularity might like, largely because of costs.

“The primary reason that sustainable materials have not taken over the market already is the increased cost, which, let’s face it, consumers are not willing to pay, hence retailers are not willing to pay, so ultimately it is the manufacturers that carry the cost burden,” Munir said. “Circularity gives us the opportunity to salvage what has already been produced, and thus in a way already paid for, back into materials for new goods.”

Aiding in the effort to advance circularity in Bangladesh, is Reverse Resources, winner of the H&M Foundation’s first Global Change Award. The company has developed a software platform where leftover fabric and cut pieces can be traced and bought virtually. Reverse Resources CEO Ann Runnel visited Bangladesh five years ago, and that’s where the idea for the business was born.

“When I saw the huge mountains of textile leftovers, I realized that one small brand can’t possibly solve even 1 percent of the waste problem of one factory there,” Runnel said. “The waste issue has to be solved on scale first, and then come back down to smaller volumes because you need to pull together a larger volume of similar resources to prove a business case with waste.”

Upward of 80 percent of Bangladesh’s economy is built on garment production and there isn’t an industry in the country to take care of all of the resulting waste.

“In terms of circular economy, Bangladesh is sitting on a goldmine with a market potential of $5 billion if these leftovers were taken back into fashion supply chains by different methods of remanufacturing and recycling,” Runnel said. “The global fashion industry is asking for circular economy and I find that Bangladesh is a great place where to start delivering that vision.”

To realize that vision, however, Munir said it’s going to take getting key major players on board.

“It will ultimately take government intervention and pressure from big retailers to legitimize the trade of wastage. The trader does provide a valuable service of collection and sorting of the fabric cut pieces to allow us to use mechanical recycling in a scalable and economical manner, because it is a marketplace and thus benefits from the effects of supply and demand,” Munir said. “In a larger scale, it’s going to take a wholehearted effort from the entire supply chain right up to the consumer, because in the fashion industry, especially in Bangladesh, at the end of the day price is still king.”

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