Rainwater could meet water demand by up to 60% in garment factories

According to a study published yesterday, collected rainwater currently meets 15-60% of non-potable water demand in textile and garment factories, helping the industry to continue its green movement by reducing its dependence on water underground.

The study, which aims to better understand water demand and consumption in the garment production process, was conducted jointly by WaterAid and the RAiN Forum.

Of the 65 textile and apparel manufacturers surveyed, 12 units have stormwater catchment areas of 2,000 square meters while the remaining 53 factories have catchment areas ranging from 2,000 to 8,000 square meters.

The annual demand for non-potable water in 17 of these plants is 10,000 cubic meters, while it fluctuates between 10,000 and 50,000 cubic meters in the remaining 48 units.

Thus, about 34 of the plants have the potential to harvest 10,000 cubic meters of rain while the other 31 could harvest between 10,000 and 30,000 cubic meters each year, according to the study.

Six of these units meet 15% of their non-potable water demand from collected rainwater, while 59 meet up to 60% of their demand from the same source.

It takes an investment of around Tk 65 lakh to establish a reservoir in the factory area to harvest rainwater, which is mostly used for non-potable purposes such as washing clothes.

It typically takes seven to ten years to recoup this investment, as rainwater harvesting is a cost-effective and environmentally efficient way to reduce groundwater use and save energy.

Bangladesh is currently the world champion for eco-friendly garment factories with 157 Leadership in Environmental and Energy in Design (LEED) certified garment units across the country.

These green clothing factories have saved an average of 40% per year on their electricity and water costs by introducing rainwater harvesting.

“Harvested rainwater even covers 100% of the non-potable water demand in some garment factories that do not have dyeing and washing units,” said Md Ashraful Alum, Member Secretary of RAiN Forum.

Alum made the comment during a keynote address on the study’s findings during a discussion on “Industrial Rainwater Harvesting, A Sustainable Approach to Water Management.”

WaterAid, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the Bangladesh Apparel Youth Leaders Association co-hosted the discussion at the Westin Dhaka, where international retailers and brands, industry leaders, garment exporters and researchers were present.

BGMEA Chairman Faruque Hassan said he will include the Sustainable Water Management Cell in the newly constructed BGMEA Building Innovation Center in Uttara this year as part of his efforts to save the environment .

International retailers and brands as well as development partners in Bangladesh still prefer to fund well-established garment units and generally don’t care about small factories.

“So the small garment factories need more financial help to grow, but unfortunately they are not getting the required help from anywhere,” Hassan said.

Hasin Jahan, national director of WaterAid, said the water level in and around Dhaka city is falling by 1.5% to 3% per year due to overexploitation of groundwater. Water levels in Tejgaon and Mirpur areas of the capital have dropped the most so far.

Similarly, water is not available from normal tube wells in Rajshahi areas due to falling water levels, she added.

Tanzida Islam, environment program manager at H&M, said 50% of the company’s local garment supply factories should build rainwater harvesting infrastructure by the end of 2022.

Last year, 45% of H&M’s 105 supply factories nationwide had already built rainwater harvesting infrastructure, saving 0.2 million cubic meters of rainwater.

Shamima Akhter, general affairs manager at Unilever Bangladesh, said rainwater currently accounts for around 21% of their Kalurghat plant’s water use, but the goal is to increase it to 79%.

Michael O. Stutler