Saturday, November 30, 2013

Green (and vegan) Leather Alternatives

A belt made from renewable cork trees.
Green Leather

The historic significance of leather in human societies cannot be overlooked. Since the dawn of humans, we've used leather to clothe us, to protect us either from elements or arrows, to relax and unwind upon, and to embellish our lives with the richness of royalty. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, tanneries existed in almost every American town and served the local public by providing leather made from local animals. Hides were processed in a manner that was less harmful to the environment than now. Currently the human population of our planet is upwards of 7 billion, with a production-animal number of more than 60 billion. We cannot sustain a healthy environment at this rate, and changes must be made where possible. The use of alternate materials for leather is one step, a small one, but it must begin somewhere. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Is 3D Printing and Green Eco-Leather the future of the leather industry?

3D printed leather?  Well, Andras Forgacs has developed a method of 3D printing that could produce a human body part and organs and now he’s working on a technology that could produce animal products without animals, including faux leather.  This would include a biopsy process where the cells of an animal would be taken from a tissue sample, but would not harm the animal.  Leather could then be grown from the cells and grown into the shape of a wallet, handbag, etc.  This would be better for animals and better for the environment!  Learn more about 3D printing here.

Process of growing leather. Taken from Youtube.

Here’s an interesting TED talk on the subject:

Leather and Meat without killing Animals

“Green eco-leather” is one of the newest types of leather like materials.  It’s made from natural fibers such as flax or cotton and mixed with palm, corn, or other plant oils.  Green eco-leather is said to look and feel like it came from an animal.  Unlike the leather tanning process, eco-leather uses materials that are sustainable and provide a low carbon footprint.   It might be a while before you can see green eco-Leather shoes in stores, however, interest in the material is growing and companies like Nike, Puma, and Adidas have requested samples to experiment with this green product.  Here’s more about Eco-Leather

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pollution from Leather Tanneries in Kanpur

The city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, India is facing severe problems with pollution associated with processing leather in tanneries. Currently there are 175 tanneries in Kanpur, all of which are using the same dangerous chemicals to clean and preserve animal skins for primarily foreign exchange.. The water has concentration of toxins 1-2 thousand higher than exceptable limits and poses a dangerous threat, especially if it was deposed of irresponsibly.  It is important for scientists to find a solution t The video shows the copious amounts of contaminated water used that produces 8 million liters of waste every day! It is energetically very expensive consuming 360 watts of electricity for the treatment planto making the process of leather environment friendly or abolishing the practice for human safety. The Ganges River is already confronting problems with pollution that can be a hazardous to people in the area. Workers in the tanneries are often uneducated making them unaware of the dangers that the chemicals can potential cause and the risks in the tanneries that are extremely harmful.

Why are Tannery Environmental Problems so Pervasive in 3rd World Countries?

Many of the most severe problems we encounter within tanneries are those attributed to third world countries which are having immense negative environmental impact.  "Leather Tanning In India: Environmental Regulations and Firms' Compliance" is an excellent paper by Ane Scholden in 2000, that we can examine to understand why these problems persist and are far more severe than those in first world countries.  There are many places using greener forms of processing with regulations preventing the pollution seen in India and other countries.  With all the options and their relative success, why is this solution not implemented everywhere?
The problem is very complex and although some factors will be unique to each situation, there are likely to be problems that are consistent throughout the third world.  On the surface, it would appear that the proper efforts are being made because regulations on tanneries in India are comparable to those found in Europe. But an evaluation of the water released after being filtered by their Central Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) plant found their treated output to be significantly worse than raw untreated sewage in Norway.  This is because all filtering is done on paper only.  The paperwork is completed and cleaning systems created, but not used.  There are more reasons and incentives to NOT use the systems.
The largest disincentive is corruption.  The government that monitors the output is well known to come for inspections as a bribe collection.  The quality of the treated water is irrelevant. For example, bottled spring water was submitted as a sample with a payment that was considered an inadequate bribe, and the results of the test showed that the perfectly clean, spring water was very polluted.  Therefore, in order to filter the water, money must be paid not only to accomplish the cleaning, but also to pay for the bribe effectively doubling the cost.

The second issue is lack of education among the tanners regarding the resulting problems of their pollution. Interviews with owners repeatedly showed ignorance of the results of their process on the environment and their laborers.  The belief is that because the chemicals are handled by individuals, that the chemicals can be touched, they must not be bad for the environment. This fallacy is combined with people who are accustomed to this environment.  Most of the owners and workers live in the areas of the tannery and amid the pollution created, which creates as sense of expectation that the environment is the way it has always been.  Small amounts of educational reform have made little difference and it is only the few new businesses who are more educated and affluent that actually recognize the problem.  
Children by a tannery pond.
The third issue is that although care and concern for the environment may be seen as a way of marketing their leather products as "green" and more valuable, it doesn't address this industry in particular.  The tanneries in the poor areas of India are creating a product that is not exported, but is sold internally on a lowest price based economy.  The product they produce is very low quality and the businesses that purchase them are not motivated by an improved product quality and even less so by a "green label".  In fact, these tanneries are usually operating at such a tight budget, they are unable to plan for business that is further out than a few months, let alone have a business plan that gives consideration to impacts 5 to 10 years out.

There are several things that can be done to move these industries into better business practices.  A plan would need to be developed that would incorporate incentives for compliance, removal of corruption, education of the people and a bigger voice for the people who are impacted.  Solution ideas will be the topic for my next post.  

Ref:  Scholden, Ane; 2000 FIL Working Papers, Leather Tanning in India: Environmental Regulations and Firms Compliance, 1-83

Influence and Worker Safety: The Leather Industry

Not only do workers in the Leather Industry have to work in miserable conditions, the tanneries lack of safety equipment provides an extra hazard for the workers.  The first and second hand exposure to harsh chemicals are thought to reduce life expectancy to less than 50 and death linked to chemicals is all too common.  Employees often work without gloves, boots, aprons, or face masks often putting their bare hands and feet in chemicals.  Many workers hands are dotted with white scars from a chemical-caused disease; even when wearing gloves, the chemicals come inside.   Tanning leather also causes allergies, bronchitia, and pneumonia to name a few and an estimated 40% of tannery workers have health problems from direct contact with chemicals. 

Tannery workers are exposed to a variety of potentially dangerous chemicals. Photo: Danwatch

This video followed a worker in an Indian tannery who lost his sight permanently in one eye while working with the tannery chemicals; it also shows the working conditions in Indian tanneries.

What are your shoes stepping on?

The leather tanning business is filled with large and powerful tanneries that have a lot of influence over researchers researching health problems and risks.  This is why it’s hard to find statistics on the health problems associated with the leather industry.  One professor even canceled his research project on chrome as a cause of illness in tannery workers due to the pressures of the industry.  Not only are the chemicals used in the leather industry bad for the environment, they are hazardous to the employees. 

To read more about worker safety and the influence of the leather industry click here (photo taken from website).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What can be done to reduce tannery pollution


Scientists at the Central Leather Research Institute in India have established a way to modify the tanning process in order to make it more eco-friendly and cost-efficient with no observable loss of leather quality.  Researchers found that simply reversing the order of the tanning and post-tanning steps, while simultaneously promoting non-chemical-based pre-tanning methods, reduced the amount of chemicals released by 82% and made an energy saving of nearly 40%. These findings were published in the Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology. According to the head of this study, Raghava Rao, “The significance is tremendous in the context of environmental challenges being faced by the leather industry.”  [1]


Beginning in 2010, the European Union funded a project called Tileather ('Ecofriendly Leather Tanned with Titanium').  The main objective of this project was to develop a new chrome-free leather tanning method that would reduce the potential risk to humans and the environment.  Tileather researchers came upon the idea of using titanium as an alternative to chrome, and it was soon found that titanium produces leather that is light and strong, yet is biocompatible with human tissues; it is innocuous, hypoallergenic and biodegradable. The new process eliminates chromium completely, while producing leather with similar properties. 
Once the new process was established and tested, the project team began manufacturing the product under the trade name Sanotan, and supplied it to various producers.
Over the two years that Tileather was mannufactured, project partners say they managed to eliminate 25.5 tons of chromium compounds from their tanning processes while reducing their CO2 emissions by 35 tons. [2]

 Below is great video about Tileather, found on


Monday, November 18, 2013

Problems Find Solutions with KeyTec Environmental

Finding projects and products to reduce and reuse water waste is a global issue. One company has found a possible solution. This can be used across many industries. This may be a possible next step for the tanneries as they attempt to find solutions to the environmental issues they face today.

Company Philosophy
  • Focus on problem areas where solutions are too costly or perform poorly.
  • Keep the designed solutions as simple as possible increasing product reliability
  • Provide solutions that use readily available, low cost components wherever possible for ease of maintenance and low initial cost.

KeysTec offers a full line of equipment related to Industrial Waste Water Pretreatment systems including, but not limited to:
  • Dissolved Air Flotation Equipment
  • Dissolved Air Flotation Modifications 
    and Repairs
  • Chemical storage, mixing and dosing systems
  • Various process automation

To learn more about KeysTec Environmental, go to the sites listed below. Case studies can also be found on the sites.

Companies making changes

Working with companies to correct environmental issues can be daunting. Where to start?

Well, changes can be made by taking a page from other companies. Dole Foods realized they had to make changes to maintain a market claim. So, they did. Now, Dole has ultrasonic sensors, which help reduce the amount of water by up to 380,000 liters (100,385 gallons) daily.
Water footprint_logo
Tanneries can make many changes that will allow for much the same results.

Another way to help preserve the water in and around the tanneries would be to join some project like the Water Footprint Network (WFN). This is a   multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at promoting sustainable, fair and efficient use of fresh water resources. As a global partner network, the WFN exchanges best practices for reducing water usage and also defines common methodologies to carry out Water Footprint assessments.(

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Leather Tannery Chemicals

The scientific article below shows visual aids that help explain the steps included in the leather production and chemicals that are used in the process. It also shows a graph in section B. the main country that contributes to the increase in leather tanneries in Europe. The graph shows Italy accounting for 62% of leather tanneries in the country while Europe only ceases at 38%. It raises concern that Italy is producing significantly more leather than any other country in Europe, making them accountable for the emission of chemicals associated with leather production. It would be sufficient for the project and  environmental advocates to target countries like Italy that are producing mass amounts of leather doubling the number of the thirteen countries combined in Europe.

Chemical and biological treatment technologies for leather tannery chemicals and wastewaters: A review

  •                       Giusy Lofrano፣ Sureyya Meriçb
  • Gülsüm Emel Zenginc
  • Derin Orhonc
  • a Department of Environment, Waste Division, Salerno Province, via Mauri, 61–84132 Salerno, Italy
  • b Namık Kemal University, Çorlu Engineering Faculty, Environmental Engineering Department, Çorlu, Tekirdağ, Turkey
  • c İstanbul Technical University, Civil Engineering Faculty, Environmental Engineering Department, Maslak, 34669 Istanbul, Turkey

Leather tanning is a wide common industry all over the world. It is known to be one of the most important industries in Mediterranean countries (Insel et al., 2009 and Mannucci et al., 2010). Because of their complex wastewater characteristics leather tanneries are generally located in so called organized industrial districts. In Italy tanneries, represented by about 1400 tanneries, are sited in four main poles: Veneto, Toscana, Lombardia and Campania regions (Fig. 1a); they transform raw or wet-blue skins into products used for various purposes. The value of production weighs for 17% of worldwide production and for 62% considering only the European Union. In terms of trade, it has been calculated that nearly one out of three skins traded between international operators is of Italian origin (UNIC, 2013). A proportional distribution of e leather tanneries in Italy and in EU countries is shown in Fig. 1b.
 Tanneries represent an important economic field also in developing countries as in the cases of Turkey, China, India, Pakistan Brazil and Ethiopia (Orhon et al., 1999Leta et al., 2004Lefebvre et al., 2006 and Banu and Kaliappan, 2007).