Bangladesh needs to move to a circular economy for sustainable development

By combining Bangladesh's strong readymade garment industry with the Netherlands’ circular economy knowledge, one can create a win-win situation.

Ozair Islam Jun 17, 2024
Bangladesh Circular Economy Summit

In a traditional economy, which is linear, we produce, consume and throw away which is not sustainable. So, we need to shift from a linear to a circular economy to keep resources in use for as long as possible. In a linear economy, raw materials that we process into a product are mostly thrown away after use, which creates a burden on nature.  However, in a circular economy, the cycle is closed as all these raw materials come back in production in a different way, to produce the same product or a different product through innovation, putting less pressure on nature. Considering the severe climate change impact, there is a need to create a realization about the importance of a circular economy with a proper and clear strategy.

To make the shift from a linear model to a circular shift in the apparel and textile industries of Bangladesh, to chart the future course of Bangladesh’s circular economic strategy and its robust partnership with international business partners, the second Bangladesh Circular Economy Summit was held in Dhaka on June 11 to increase the momentum of circularity in the country's apparel and textile industry. The summit was hosted by the Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE), in collaboration with GIZ Bangladesh and in association with the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Bangladesh needs to shift from linear to circular economy to keep resources in use for as long as possible, and extract and harvest the maximum value from the products because circularity will be key for the country’s next growth transition. Bangladesh, aiming to become a developed nation by 2041, has the potential to adopt a circular economy to address its limited resources, population density, and environmental degradation. With a thriving population of 170 million and limited natural resources, the country can significantly reduce waste, preserve valuable resources, and positively impact the environment. Adopting a circular economy model can also lead to innovation, job creation, and economic resilience, aligning with Bangladesh's vision for inclusive and sustainable development. The country's per capita waste generation of 149.7 kg per year underscores the importance of waste management and resource efficiency.

Why circular economy

Bangladesh's rapidly growing population presents significant resource management challenges, with rapid urbanization and industrialization increasing demand for natural resources. Transitioning to a circular economy can help prolong resource life cycles, reduce extraction requirements, and minimize depletion. Bangladesh is sensitive to climate change, and adopting circular economy ideas can help mitigate it. The garment sector, a key economic sector, is under scrutiny for environmental sustainability and labor rights. By combining Bangladesh's strong readymade garment industry with the Netherlands’ circular economy knowledge, one can create a win-win situation. Bangladesh benefits from a more sustainable production process, and the Netherlands gains a valuable partner in its circularity journey. The 3Rs — reduce, recycle and reuse — are the keys to achieving and maintaining sustainability. Extended product or producer responsibility as stipulated by the EU is going to be mandatory for apparel producers in Bangladesh. So, the importance of promoting circular fashion in the country cannot be overstated.

Bangladesh is one of the largest producers of readymade garments and that makes it also one of the largest producers of garment waste. The country has a middle-class economy and will have a high demand for materials in the future. In this context, two important things need emphasis regarding the topic of circular economy. The first is the circulation of waste and recycling technologies. Without open trade on this issue, we are undermining the potential. So, any restriction or ban on waste would be counter to going towards our goal. Secondly, the circular economy should be fueled by renewable energy because it will be of no use if you have a clean circular economy that is fueled by dirty fuels. It contradicts the purpose. International partnerships can help Bangladesh by providing knowledge to inspire, and technologies to transfer.

Bangladesh can also be one of the most significant actors in the circular economy in the world. Global fashion brands and retailers also emphasized the need for a circular economy and sustainability. Bangladesh's readymade garment (RMG) industry has seen significant progress in establishing green factories. The circular economy is becoming increasingly popular worldwide due to its environmental impact and the depletion of finite natural resources. 

Bangladesh is also experiencing environmental degradation due to textile and dyeing factories polluting rivers and canals. Implementing a circular economy model would be beneficial for both the environment and businesses, reducing pressure on natural sources and promoting sustainable growth in the apparel industry. The fashion industry needs to accelerate its transformation towards circularity as the way forward to solve the biggest challenges we, not only companies but societies in general, face such as climate change and biodiversity loss. 

Circular fashion ecosystem

We need to join forces to build a circular fashion ecosystem and Bangladesh is unique as the country with the world’s largest share of pre-consumer textile waste readily available for recycling. Bangladesh has a great potential to attract investments from local and foreign investors to scale up the production of high-value recycled fibers from pre-consumer waste. However, we are well aware that the industry needs advancing policies to regulate the waste handling sector to move forward in this area. 

Bangladesh is the second-largest producer of RMG products and they have a role to play in this change. H&M is now working on second-hand clothing, repairing and recycling as well. RMG is one of the top pollution sources. Having growth on the one hand and pollution in the hand, this needs to be balanced. In this regard, international partners should assist Bangladesh, which must focus on better waste management like waste-to-energy. The country also has to formulate policies regarding sustainability and circularity. In this interconnected world, no one can do anything alone. A partnership is mandatory.

A partnership between the government and the industry is also important. We have to think beyond CSR as it is not only the way of sustainability. The business case for sustainability must be very strong. We have to have strong commercial sense. Bangladesh Circular Economy Summit aims to find out the opportunities for the shift from the linear to the circular business model and foster collaborations among the stakeholders to promote a circular economy in the country.

Will open up new opportunities

Embracing circular economy concepts can improve sustainable raw material procurement and reduce environmental impact. The Chattogram Export Processing Zone (CEPZ) in Bangladesh promotes economic synergies and supports sustainable practices. Bangladesh's transformation to a circular economy opens up opportunities for innovation in product design, recycling technology, and waste management. Embracing circular economy ideas can mitigate public health risks, reduce pollution, improve environmental quality, and build healthier communities. Transitioning to a circular economy can improve resource security, reduce dependency on imported commodities, and enhance brand image.

The adoption of a circular economy in Bangladesh is a promising solution to address the country's long-term development objectives, including poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, and economic growth. The country's transition to a circular economy aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to promote environmental stewardship, stimulate economic development, and improve social well-being. Climate targets for 2030, decarbonization goals in 2025, graduation from LDC in 2026/2029, it all sounded far away. But it is around the corner. 

However, challenges include developing infrastructure for waste collection, sorting, recycling, and reprocessing, as well as technological advancements and innovation across sectors. Additionally, the lack of sufficient technological capacity and research funding may hinder the successful implementation of circular economy initiatives. A shift in societal norms and consumer behavior towards sustainable consumption and production patterns is crucial for the success of the circular economy. 

By embracing innovation, fostering collaboration, and implementing systemic change, Bangladesh can tap into the immense benefits of the circular economy, paving the way for a more fair, sustainable, and economically prosperous future.

(The author is a writer and columnist with a Master’s from the Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka. Views are personal. He can be contacted at )

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Sat, 06/22/2024 - 23:57
Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular article! It's the
little changes which will make the biggest changes.
Many thanks for sharing!