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What is sustainability in the leather industry?

sustainable tannery machinery for green leather finishing

From the very beginning, sustainability in the leather industry has always been crucial. Leather tanning and processing already represents a model of circular economy, by originating from the waste products of the food industry.

Despite this, nowadays we can consider several requirements to be met for a sustainable tannery. Leather processing machines, manufacturing processes, chemicals used for tanning and finishing: all these elements affect the leather production chain and must be evaluated in terms of sustainability and innovation.

This is not just an individual need: a three-year agreement between ENEA and Stazione Sperimentale per l'Industria delle Pelli (SSIP), an organization supporting Italian companies in leather industry since 1885, establishes the need to research and develop new leatherworking processes with a reduced environmental impact within the next few years.

Consequently, if the entire industry has chosen to focus on a more sustainable leather production, the way forward to align with this trend must be taken within the individual tannery, starting with the choice of the tanning processes and machinery.

The question is then: how can a tannery be more sustainable?

Leather tanning as an example of circular economy

With even more stringent regulations, customers’ increasingly demanding sustainability standards, and users’ awareness of the impact of the products they buy, a more sustainable leather production in the tannery is now considered to be indispensable.

A often misunderstood concept by users is that using leather as a material to produce everyday products is an "unneeded luxury". But in reality, the leather industry uses a byproduct of other sectors, since hides are processed from food waste.

Tanneries have always worked alongside the meat industry to recover unused raw hides and elevate them to a valuable material. And when this treatment is carried out ethically, responsibly and environmentally friendly, using innovative technology and advanced tools, then we can concretely speak of sustainable processes as for any other sector.

The characteristics of a sustainable tannery

Finding the newest solutions for leather processing can optimize the entire supply chain with a focus on environmental sustainability, circular economy and waste reduction. Let's find out the conditions for putting sustainability first in the leather industry.

  • Types of tanning: historically, the most common tanning agents have been mineral or vegetable. Both systems have benefits over the other in terms of sourcing, disposal and characteristics given to the leather, but can rarely satisfy all the requirements imposed by today's increasing demands. Alternative leather tanning systems are then developed, from the need to combine performance and environmental sustainability, in order to obtain an even more natural material without compromises.

  • Use of water: it is widely used in most leatherworking processes, as a carrier for wet phases like tanning, dyeing and greasing, and for other phases such as washing tools and tannery machinery for aerosol abatement. Water is a critical element for tanneries not only on an environmental level, but also on an economic one, considering the incidence of management costs.

  • Energy consumption: although the leather industry is not an energy-intensive sector, the amount of electrical and thermal energy used for various processes such as the drying of hides and skins, for example, should not be underestimated.

  • Wastewater disposal: once difficult to treat and dispose properly, tannery wastewater is nowadays handled through sophisticated processes in order to separate, recover or correctly dispose of. Due to different leather tanning agents and processing methods, today's wastewater is characterized by new, various mixes of organic and inorganic substances, often giving complex challenges to waste treatment plants.

  • Abatement of emissions: generally, leather coating processes generate emissions into the atmosphere. Before being released into the atmosphere, these pollutants are to be treated in special gas purification machines known as abatement systems.

Erretre: a greener leather processing and finishing

Alongside more advanced technologies and efficient production processes, there is a strong focus ion life cycle analysis and carbon footprint in tanneries. Identifying the Life Cycle Assessment of hides and the amount of CO2 emitted in leatherworking allows more accurate and controlled analysis, in order to obtain a more sustainable leather production.

Erretre has always felt the responsibility to help tanneries become more sustainable. From increases of machinery performances to improvements in emissions management, through the creation of innovative solutions for greater safety and higher quality standards.

Pioneering in its vision of the leather industry, through researches carried out in collaboration with the University of Occupational Medicine of Padua as early as 1984, Erretre developed new aerosol treatment systems for dust management in leather pigmentation, leading to our innovative spraying and abatement methods and anticipating current regulations by more than 20 years.

Our recently released machinery is an example of this: our new Black Line milling drums with reduced consumptions and high performances, or our Ecotan finishing cabin with an integrated fume abatement system that significantly reduces emissions in the atmosphere.

Choosing Erretre machinery for tannery means high quality materials, waste reduction, high technology and a greener responsibility: the functions of our tannery machines are constantly adjusted according to actual needs, thus optimizing energy consumptions.

Sustainability in the leather industry starts here: discover Erretre's finishing machines!


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