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Leather processing

In an age of plastics, metals and synthetics, leather has kept its place as a product of superior quality. As a result, tanning remains an essential economic activity. Leather processing can be done at the small-scale or large-scale level, all to varying degrees of sophistication.

The tanning industry has been subject to important challenges and changes. Foremost has been the introduction of processing technologies with less impact on the environment. As the production of finished leather is concentrated in developing countries, UNIDO, together with other partners, have provided support to enhance tanning industry practices in developing countries.

Cleaner leather production technologies remain UNIDO’s main focus in the field of leather processing. Cleaner production applications include green hide and skin processing (supply of raw material from slaughterhouses without preservation, e.g. salting), water management (use minimum volume of process water), recycling (e.g. in liming) and chromium recovery (after tanning), hair saving (to reduce dissolved solids in effluent) and application of environmentally friendly chemicals (e.g. enzymes). Special attention is also given to occupational health and safety (OHS) in tanneries.

Generally 35-60% of the total solids in tannery sludge is organic matter. A number of solutions for utilization and/or safe disposal of tannery sludge have been proposed, practiced, tested and applied at pilot and industrial scale. Composting is one of these options and this report describes results of tests and application of sludge composting on low, non-mechanized scale together with its utilization as soil conditioner for nonedible plants.

Utilization or safe disposal of sludge generated by tannery effluent treatment plants poses a challenge worldwide; landfill disposal should be considered only in case when no other viable option is possible.  Unfortunately, in some areas and/or developing countries properly designed and constructed landfills are not available either.
With the technical assistance of UNIDO, CETP-Ranitec in Ranipet, Tamil Nadu, India, established a low cost pilot scale demonstration landfill in October 1997, the first of its kind in the region. The report describes requirements for a safe landfill disposal and practical recommendations for replication.

Case Study prepared for the Conference on Ecologically Sustainable Industrial Development (ESID), Copenhagen, Denmark, 14 - 18 October 1991.