Dyeing factories have dismal record of effluent treatment
Only 30 percent of the 1,300 dyeing factories in the country have effluent treatment plants, making it all the more difficult to bring down water pollution, an economist said yesterday.
“This is a major challenge. Already the rivers surrounding Dhaka are dead for discharge of waste and chemicals. More rivers will follow suit if we allow the existing trend to continue,” said Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of Policy Research Institute, a private research organisation.
Mansur's comments came yesterday while presenting a paper at a seminar on legal and regulatory issues related to environmental sustainability of the textile sector.
PRI in collaboration with International Finance Corporation organised the event at the office of the research organisation.
While the exact data is not available, the perception of experts is that the ETP coverage in dyeing factories is very low, at around 30 percent, he said.
The textile sector, the backward linkage of the apparel industry, which is the main export earner, consumes 1,500 billion litres of water, mainly groundwater, annually to produce five million tonnes of fabric.
The water level is falling due to continued extraction of underground water, threatening sustainability.
Without enforcement of rules and full ETP coverage, the water pollution due to industrial waste will rise, as the apparel industry is expected to expand in the coming days, Mansur said. “That's a serious concern,” he said, adding that water consumption in dyeing factories would also rise without an increase in efficiency of water use.
Mansur, citing the results of an IFC-led project, said $6 million was saved in 51 dyeing units for adopting best practices for cleaner production.
Water charges should be adjusted keeping in mind that if water efficiency in the wet processing sector is improved to the globally acceptable best practice level (between 50 and 70 litres per kilogram) it would keep the ground level broadly unchanged, he said.
He also suggested charging higher fees for factories inside city corporations, municipalities and lower fees for locations such as industrial parks, citing China as an example.
Mansur also favoured giving financial and fiscal incentives to entrepreneurs to adopt low-cost cleaner production practices and use less hazardous chemicals. He also proposed for increasing import duty and taxes on hazardous chemicals.
Md Kawsar Ali, chief operating officer of Comfit Composite, said his company has reduced its water consumption to 50 litres per kilogram from 180 litres by adopting cleaner production technology.
In so doing, the company saved nearly Tk 1 crore in 2014, he said, adding that Comfit Composite has also achieved zero-discharge hazardous chemical status.
Kazy Mohammad Iqbal Hossain, representative of C&A, said they are working with 17 factories to stop the usage of 11 categories of hazardous chemicals.
Bangladesh does not produce these chemicals but import them, he said, while suggesting for an increase in duty on these chemicals.
Atiqul Islam, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said apparel makers will have to address all issues, from occupational and workplace safety through to environmental sustainability, to be in the business.
“This is a pressure. If we cannot address the issues, we will be out of business,” he said, adding that many entrepreneurs have shown interest in establishing green factories.
He went on to call for low-cost bank loans and special incentives to encourage entrepreneurs to establish ETP and use water-efficient technologies.
Anwar Hossain Manju, minister for environment and forests, said air pollution is very high in Dhaka, while the water supplied by the government agency is not fit for drinking.
He said local entrepreneurs have made strides despite many hurdles such as corruption, delays in getting decisions from government agencies and political upheavals.
About the current political limbo, he said the situation is not at all convenient for investment.
Referring to BGMEA's target of achieving $50 billion in garment exports by 2021, Manju said: “I was thinking what would be the political situation in 2021. You have got to be hopeful; you have got to be pragmatic. Of late, politics has brought out a different dimension. If that continues, we have got to have a contingency plan as well.”