Some members of a garment factory alliance have been producing biodegradable general-use masks from surplus fabrics to distribute among the poor for free.
Following the coronavirus outbreak, masks, often made of non-woven materials including plastic, have been in high demand and are selling in the market at Tk 30 to Tk 100.
Under such circumstances, at least nine factories, which are part of Eco-friendly Low-Cost Liquid Absorbent (Ella) alliance, decided to distribute their masks in all 64 districts through the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA).
They entered an agreement with BIDA on March 19, Mamunur Rahman, coordinator of Ella, told The Daily Star.
He said initially they had planned to supply 25 lakh free masks but as the factories are closing down, they might need to revise their target.
"In our textile industry, we have a wide range of good quality fabric scraps and leftovers that can be reused for diverse purposes," said Mamumur, who also founded Ella Pad, a free sanitary napkin produced at a lower cost from textile scraps for workers of Ella's members.
He said the fabric scraps can be used to produce general-use masks in response to the current situation, when there is an apparent shortage of the product in the market.
Ella members have already distributed free masks to the workers of their factories, he added.
"The masks made of plastic are not washable and biodegradable. If everyone wears it, can you imagine how much plastic we will generate?" asks Mamunur.
Ella's face masks are made at a low cost from textile scraps and can be reused after washing, he said.
When asked about the mask design, Mamunur said, "We researched different sources [on the internet] such as WHO [the World Health Organization] and CDC [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States].
"We tried to understand how the masks should be made to cover the basics [face parts], just like the mask they have made. There are videos about these on YouTube."
The alliance coordinator expressed willingness to share the design with tailors across the country and provide them with processed textile scraps, if deputy commissioners of districts and upazila nirbahi officers help them with the liaison.
Meanwhile, the workers of the Ella alliance factories are also happy to be part of the good cause and have been producing the masks alongside their regular work.
"When I heard that these will be distributed for free among the poor, I felt very happy to make the masks. I have been making 150-200 masks a day for the past four days," Rina Begum, a 26-year-old worker at the Radisson Casual Wear Ltd in Dhamrai, told this correspondent on March 26.
Till Wednesday, the alliance has produced and handed over around 25,000 masks to the BIDA.
Beximco Textiles, one of the 10 alliance members, has provided a lion's share of the masks, while Radisson Casual Wear Ltd supplied around 3000 masks.
According to Khalid Shahrior, general manager of Beximco Textiles, till March 25, they have already produced and distributed 30,000 eco-friendly masks to their employees, 1,500 masks to the Prime Minister's Office and about 22,000 to the BIDA for countrywide distribution.
"If we don't have to shut down our factories, we are hoping to produce 25,000 to 50,000 masks a day, alongside our regular work. Initially, we planned to provide 10 lakh free masks. But if needed, we will produce another 10 lakh," he said.
Beximco Textiles has involved its seven factories to produce face masks.
Syed Fardeen Hashemi, director of Radisson Casual Wear Ltd, said, initially, they promised to produce 25,000 face masks but due to massive absenteeism among the workers in fear of the coronavirus outbreak, they have produced 3,000 masks as of March 25.
"If everything goes well, we are hoping to fulfill our target and we are trying to involve other businessmen to do this," said Fardeen.
The BIDA will distribute the masks in all 64 districts as it has a training programme titled "Entrepreneurship Creation and Skill Development" in every district.
The programme has a nine-member committee headed by the district's deputy commissioner, who will decide how to distribute the masks to those who need it, said Mohammad Hafizullah Khan, project director of BIDA's Entrepreneurship Creation and Skill Development programme.
"I received around 28,000 masks from the Beximco Textiles, Radisson Casual Wear Ltd and my personal connections," he added.
"Already, I have distributed around 3500 masks to BIDA employees, the Prime Minister's Office and the Dhaka Reporters' Unity," added Hafizullah, also the assistant secretary at Prime Minister's Office.
As of Saturday, 2,000 masks were sent to Rangpur and Sirajganj, 1000 to Pabna and another 1,000 to Bogura, said the BIDA official.