Though Bangladesh accounts for 2.4% of the world's mismanaged plastic waste, recycling plants are not getting enough of discarded plastic bottles as raw materials to make reusable products such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) flakes, PSF (polyester staple fibre), polyester yarn and polyester fabric.
Of 8.21 lakh tonnes of plastic waste generated annually in Bangladesh, only 36% are recycled and more than 5.27 lakh tonnes are dumped in landfill and environment, says a study of the Department of Environment (DoE).
Recyclers claim they have the capacity to make use of half of the total plastic waste generated in the country. But limited supply holds back plastic recycling units from running in full capacity.
According to industry insiders, around 300 plastic recycling factories across the country produce plastic flakes from scraps. Among them, more than 80 factories export around 40,000 tonnes of flakes annually.
They said six to seven companies including Mamanu Polyester Industries Ltd, Maliha Polytex Fiber, Amber PSF Ltd, and Plasto Hi-Tech Industry invested heavily in the production of PSF, polyester yarn and polyester fabric.
But the lack of enough raw materials is a barrier to utilising their full production capacity. Although the recyclers have sought permission from the government to import PET bottle scraps and PET flakes, they are yet to get a green signal.
According to the Ministry of Commerce, there is a demand for around 2 lakh tonnes of plastic scraps in the industry.
The total supply of plastic scraps in Bangladesh, including local supply and import, is around 70,000 tonnes which is one-third of the total demand.
People concerned say PET flakes and PSF manufacturing companies in different export processing zones can import plastic scraps with a bond facility. But companies outside the EPZs can import scraps only after obtaining clearance from the commerce ministry.
According to a report of the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission, the country imports 1 lakh tonnes of raw materials every year to produce PET bottles. Some 20% of these bottles are reused while the rest are discarded as plastic waste. Factories get scraps from these discarded bottles which are then used as raw materials.
About 80% of these scraps are being used as raw materials by the PET flakes, geotextile and PSF producing companies, said the report.
Amber PSF Ltd set up its factory on an area of 120,000 sq-ft. It has created a production line with heavy machinery. The company is in nominal production by procuring some raw materials from the local level.
Didar Hossain, senior manager of Amber PSF, told The Business Standard, "We are not getting enough raw materials. We have sought permission from the commerce ministry to import raw materials. But we have not got any response yet. We are counting losses for not being able to use our full production capacity."
Maliha Poly Tex Fiber Industries has invested Tk200 crore to make yarn from PSF. The company collects raw materials from the local market which, it says, is not enough to meet its production capacity.
Maliha Poly Tex is also waiting for permission for raw materials import just as Mumanu Polyester Industries is.
Plasto Hi Tech Industry built its infrastructure a couple of years ago and have already obtained necessary permissions from the Department of Environment, fire service, Bida, bond licence etc to start production. But it has not got the permission to import raw materials.
AH Hafiz Ahmed, owner of Plasto Hi Tech Industry, said, "We have enough space for six to seven production lines. Each line will cost $6-6.5 lakh. It is a 100% export-oriented factory.
"But if I cannot ensure the supply of raw materials, there will be no benefit in bringing these machines."
Hafiz said many in the sector were facing the same problems. "My initial investment is now at risk," he said.
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Trade and Tariff Commission has recommended permitting raw material import up to 50% of the production capacity of the companies producing PSF.
However, to prevent the import of anything harmful to the environment except PET bottle scraps and flakes, the organisation said inspection by the Bangladesh Navy should be made mandatory before unloading these raw materials.
The government is providing a 10% subsidy against PET bottle and polyester staple fibre exports. These products are mostly exported to China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Russia and a few European countries.
The demand for products produced from PET flakes is increasing in the international market. Various brands such as Adidas Parley, Girlfriend Collective, Allbirds, Everlane, Nike etc are increasing products produced from recycled PET flakes.
Flakes manufacturing companies collect plastic bottles and process them in four steps – cutting the bottles into small pieces called flakes, washing the flakes, drying and packaging them. Some companies export flakes to different countries while some supply to local manufacturers.
The PSF production process involves nine steps.
PSF is the raw material for polyester yarn which is then used to produce geotextile, polyester fabric and woven fabric.
Fully export-oriented companies such as Square Synthetic Limited, Beximco Synthetic Ltd, Simco Ltd and LK Cotton use PSF as raw materials to produce synthetic polyester yarn.