Policy dialogue event on circular economy for Bangladesh’s textile and garments sector held with SWITCH2CE support

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The UNIDO-led global Switch to Circular Economy Value Chains project, spanning textile and garments, plastic packaging, and ICT and electronics, supports Bangladesh’s RMG (ready-made-garments) sector to achieve the transition to circular value chains. In addition to piloting circular solutions directly with the private sector, the project also works on creating an enabling policy environment that will allow businesses to achieve circularity. 

Chatham House, the project partner responsible for leading the policy dialogue activities in the project target countries, in partnership with Policy Exchange in Bangladesh, organized the first roundtable discussion on policy priorities for the circular textiles and garments value chain of Bangladesh. The event, which took place on 24 August in Dhaka, enabled multi-stakeholder dialogue to identify circular economy challenges and opportunities for Bangladesh’s garment and textiles industry. Distinguished representatives from the Ministry of Commerce and other ministries, development partners, industry associations, and the private sector, including multinationals, participated in the roundtable.  
Mr. Tapan Kanti Ghosh, Honourable Senior Secretary from the Ministry of Commerce of Bangladesh addressed the audience as keynote speaker, while Dr. Masrur Reaz, Chairman and CEO of Policy Exchange of Bangladesh, presented some key challenges and possible options for the expediting circular transition in Bangladesh’s textile and garments sector. 

A roundtable discussion, moderated by Mr. Abdur Rahim Khan, Additional Secretary, Head of Export Wing at the Ministry of Commerce of Bangladesh, enabled dialogue between the government stakeholders, development partners and representatives from the private sector. During the roundtable discussion, Mr. Zaki Zaman, UNIDO Country Representative in Bangladesh, emphasised UNIDO’s role in supporting sustainable industrial development, through initiatives such as the integrated approach towards sustainable plastics use and marine litter prevention and the global SWITCH2CE initiative. He also underlined that adoption of circularity in the RMG sector will further strengthen Bangladesh’s competitiveness, boost up branding of the country, and safeguard its share in the global apparel market.

Key issues emerging from the discussion: 

Recognizing circular transition: private sector and brand leadership

Fashion brand representatives acknowledged the relationship between market access and circular endeavours, underscoring the critical role of adhering to circular principles to sustain international market presence. Industry associations, exemplified by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), outlined ambitious goals to incorporate sustainable materials, circular business models, and advanced waste management practices into the sector. It was concluded, however, that there is still much work to be done to achieve these ambitious objectives and fully transition to a circular model.

Unveiling challenges across the circular spectrum: insights from discussion 

Experts identified plastic waste and its pervasive consumption patterns as critical issues demanding immediate attention. Notably, Bangladesh displayed resilience in waste management with a 37% recycling rate, albeit witnessing a decline due to changing economic dynamics and a shortage of waste collectors. Practitioners emphasized stringent greenhouse gas and recycled material content thresholds imposed by global markets. Compliance was deemed essential for sustained trade, prompting a call for aligning circular practices with global market demands. Informal waste segregation, poor waste management infrastructure, and lack of incentives for requisite investments in recycling technology emerged as critical impediments.

Driving progress: financial incentives, investment, and technological advancement

Bangladesh's significant investment potential underscored the opportunities available in circular practices, particularly in recycling post-industrial waste and exporting value-added recycled materials. The necessity for technological innovations and renewable energy access was stressed as prerequisites for a thriving circular economy and meeting global compliance requirements. Incentives like fiscal benefits and subsidies play a pivotal role in galvanizing investments across the value chain, promoting recyclability, repairability, and product longevity. Substantial investments are required to spearhead the circular agenda, cement its global competitiveness and positioning Bangladesh favorably in its pursuit of industrialized status by 2041. 

Fostering collaboration: cohesive policy harmonization and collective action

The route to a circular economy, it was reiterated, demands synergistic efforts from governmental bodies, industry players, financial institutions, and international collaborators. The roundtable acknowledged the importance of inter-ministerial coordination, creating a supportive policy environment, and bringing private sector expertise to the forefront. Efficient waste segregation and the enhancement of waste management infrastructure, including the establishment of formal collection and recycling facilities, are pivotal facets of the circular transition. Collaborative efforts, such as Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), offer a means to achieve these goals with government facilitation. Challenges persist, including slow policy implementation and the need for a more proactive approach. The formation of a dedicated circularity division within the Ministry of Commerce is an aspirational objective. The pursuit of circularity was seen not just as an environmental goal, but a strategic approach to economic resilience and global competitiveness.

The roundtable concluded with a shared sentiment that a well-coordinated strategy, inclusive engagement, policy coherence, and focused investment will propel Bangladesh toward a sustainable circular future.

In the following months, policy dialogues in Bangladesh, led by Chatham House and Policy Exchange, will continue with multi-stakeholder discussions to confirm the circular policy priorities and recommendations. A final report will outline an actionable policy agenda for Bangladesh’s circular textile transitions.