Looking at a Positive Future: How One Bangladeshi Company is Recycling it Raw

The $3 million Dhaka-based Recycle-Raw claims to be the only compliant textile-garment waste-sorting company in Bangladesh and on mission to change the garbage sector into gold.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • Bangladesh generates approximately 0.8 million metric tonnes of textile/garment waste annually.
  • Waste management is informal business in Bangladesh and there are players who pass the ball without adding any value which makes it expensive, and lacking in quality.
  • Recycle-Raw sources its textile waste from the key industrial zones in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Chittagong, Gazipur and Savar.
Recycle-Raw
Formal & Organised The aim at Recycle Raw is to make the waste management industry more formal and organised. Recycle-Raw

A pair of childhood friends, and one in debt. The other joins hands with a university buddy too. This was the early 2000s in the bustling megapolis of Dhaka.

The univ buddies — Abdur Razzaque and Ibrahim Sajib – studied to be textile technologists, one doing his Masters in Recycled Fashion Design, and the other in International Business. 

The one in debt (Kajol Bahadur) had been collecting textile waste for long and knew the lay of the land, but somehow found himself in despair as his business grew knottier and unmanageable. 

Expertise and knowledge on the business of collecting textile waste and garments also came in from Abdur’s father, who had been into this profession since the time the “informal syndicate” ran the entire ops. “It was very unorganised. Plus, the recycling then was traditional in nature and limited in scale with mostly downcycling being done. This meant low quality yarn majorly and home textiles. 

“My father used to buy from the existing network of middlemen, segregate according to colour and composition, and sell those to a third party to scale up. But, there was no guarantee of quality and both the quantity and capacity was small,” says Abdur, the Managing Director at the Dhaka-based Recycle-Raw Limited.

Spearheaded by the trio, with Ibrahim as the chairperson and Kajol as director, Recycle-Raw claims to be the only compliant waste-sorting company in Bangladesh today, sourcing textile waste from the key industrial zones in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Chittagong, Gazipur and Savar, all located not far from the other. 

The aim at Recycle Raw is to make the waste management industry more formal and organised. “Our long-term vision is to move ahead together. We want to work not only in circular fashion but also gradually expand to circular economy.”

With capacity to handle 2000MT annually, the $3 million company says it is a one-stop solution for the following services: scale up, exact quality feedstock, traceability and logistics.   

Recyclers opt for 100% cotton. Blends like cotton/elastane, cotton/polyblended where the maximum percentage is cotton, polyester/cotton are slow and mostly go for downcycling like home textiles.
Recyclers Recyclers opt for 100% cotton. Blends like cotton/elastane, cotton/polyblended where the maximum percentage is cotton, polyester/cotton are slow and mostly go for downcycling like home textiles. Recycle-Raw

Setting up

Looking back, Abdur recollects: “It was in 2016 that we started sampling for different recyclers and started to understand quality parameters of different buyers like chemicals, mechanical recyclers, upcyclers, and as we grew, we learnt along the way. We tried our hands in two-three sectors, losing all our savings. But being textile technologists, we realised that textile waste management was the best option. I went to China to study about recycling where I took that Master‘s degree in Recycled Fashion, besides looking for customers“.   

Talking about the advantage, if any, that Recycle-Raw had as an early mover, Abdur says: “Yes, Recycle-Raw is an early mover. But recycling is not new in this world. Waste management is informal business in Bangladesh and there is a lot of threat; plus, there are players who pass the ball without adding any value which makes the waste expensive, and it invariably falls short of quality. Recyclers face the problem of quality feedstock. 

"We took this as an advantage and used our theory and practical knowledge to make it a one-stop solution for textile waste management. Since we were in the trade, we could understand that recycling is a must for any industry to save planet earth. So, we started in an organised way. We still do a lot of study and work with many organisations to propel this business into an organised orbit. We believe that we will be able to set an example on how to change the garbage sector into one full of opportunities.”

(Left to right:) Ibrahim Sajib (Chairman), Abdur Razzaque (Managing Director) and Kajol Bahadur (Director).
The Troika (Left to right:) Ibrahim Sajib (Chairman), Abdur Razzaque (Managing Director) and Kajol Bahadur (Director). Recycle-Raw

Challenges aplenty

The challenges faced as an early mover were primarily on how to get the waste material directly from the factories due to the informal syndicate. The situation has changed for the better, albeit slowly. “We now buy waste not only from factories, but also from the informal syndicate.”

Talking about the blended materials, he maintains that recyclers opt for 100% cotton. Blends like cotton/elastane, cotton/polyblended where the maximum percentage is cotton, polyester/cotton are slow and mostly go for downcycling like home textiles.

Recycle-Raw exports around 80% of its products — spinnable raw materials — while the balance is used within the country. 

If the textiles industry — a major pollutant — can be diverted from a linear to a circular fashion ecosystem, then the cultivation and production of virgin fibres will reduce and more land can used for food cultivation. And, a circular fashion ecosystem would bring changes in overall sourcing. 

Says Abdur about their operations, “We are reusing coloured clips/coloured post-industrial waste. This means there is no need to dye the fibre/yarn/fabric anymore and that saves energy and water, and cuts down on air pollution.”

One challenge for recycled fibres /yarn is that it has to compete with traditional fibres/yarn. The cost of recycled fibres, says he, is still lower than the conventional fibres by around 20–30%. But recycled yarns are expensive by around 5–10% at least. “To make the entire process transparent, brands, manufacturers (waste producer) and recyclers must collaborate and work together with traceability,” Abdur exhorts.

“We are observing that the demand for recycled yarn is increasing rapidly. As pressure mounts on brands to set targets to make fashion circular, they are putting their effort directly and indirectly in this sector. Brands are also advising their manufacturers to provide waste to those mills who are making yarn to close the supply chain loop.”

Closing the loop

Bangladesh, he informs, generates approximately 0.8 million metric tonnes of textile/garment waste annually. The country, which counts the textile industry as one of the main stays of its economy, uses less than 10% of the waste locally, with the rest being exported for recycling or downcycling. 

Local consumption is increasing day by day and that’s a positive vibe. “Some international companies have started their operations in Bangladesh. Besides, around 16-18% goes for incineration in industrial boilers as well as brick fields.”
Affirming that the future looks “really positive,” he says that Bangladesh been able to close the loop by about 8-10%” and the percentage is on the rise.

BGMEA Call

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) wants to import scrapped clothes to make recycled apparel items from them as their demand is on the rise globally. "We export jhoot (scrapped) clothes but the time has come to import them to make garments from them in order to save the environment," Faruque Hassan, president of the BGMEA, said at a press conference.

BTMA Demand

The Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) has urged for a ban on export of all garment waste to make adequate raw materials available for domestic recycling units. BTMA president Mohammad Ali Khokon has also sought withdrawal of taxes on sourcing raw materials from the local market and supplying cotton made from recycled fibre to spinning mills.

Our long-term vision is to move ahead together. We want to work not only in circular fashion but also gradually expand to circular economy.

Abdur Razzaque
Abdur Razzaque / Managing Director / Recycle-Raw

Richa Bansal

RICHA BANSAL has more than 30 years of media industry experience, of which the last 20 years have been with leading fashion magazines in both B2B and B2C domains. Her most recent position was at the helm of editoral affairs at Fibre2Fashion

 
 
 
  • Dated posted: 22 December 2022
  • Last modified: 22 December 2022