Updated: Jan 7, 2021
Tannery is one of the oldest industries in the world, and its environmental impact has recently become so severe that it seriously threatens our ability to transfer our potential to the next generation. It is no wonder that a study sponsored by the Indian government identifies the "leather industry" as the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in South Asia.
The processing of leather is a burden on the environment, as 300 kg of chemicals are added to the tanning of 900 kg of animal hides and enormous amounts of fossil fuels are also used in livestock farming. Cowhide has a different environmental impact than synthetic leather, including polyurethane (PU) leather. Disposal of PU also raises its own environmental problems and performs well in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Sustainable Development Goals.
" Enormous amounts of fossil fuels are also used in livestock farming."
Production of Leather
Leather production is also one of the thirstiest industries, with recent estimates suggesting that 17,000 litres of water are needed to produce just 1 kg of leather. Cattle produce an estimated 6 kg of leather per capita, and the rearing of cattle for leather and the use of fossil fuels have a significant impact on the environment.
The leather industry faces challenges with healthy indoor air quality and this is a crucial importance to workers in this industry. Indoor dust in the leather industry poses a serious health risk to exposed workers due to excessive exposure to heavy metals.
Tanning is particularly harmful to the environment in countries where environmental standards are lax and 249 million cubic metres of water are wasted. Many country's economies are heavily dependent on the leather industry and leather goods, which explains the government's reluctance to take action against polluters. More than half of the production is in leather tanning and the export industry has grown to over 56 billion US dollars.
The leather industry can be relatively close to urban areas, and so workers may be absorbing additional heavy metals from non-point-bound sources. Tamil Nadu is also home to serious pollution, caused in part by abandoned tanneries and factories producing chemicals for the leather industry. One of the main reasons for the high contamination of the sections is that the cutting, stitching and packaging sections are less contaminated because they produce fiber waste.
We all know that keeping cows as food can be incredibly harmful to the environment, but if we look more closely at leather production, we can see that the environmental impact does not end with the death of cows. Pollution in the leather industry is not only caused by livestock breeding, but also by the process of leather production itself. In a province as arid as the Middle East, there is a high risk that the leather industry will be blinded by beef from China. Due to its function, it consists of leather tanneries, textile factories, leather factories and leather processing plants.
Tannery has been listed as the most polluting activity in terms of the number of pollutants in the conversion of animal hides into leather. However, the leather industry could be distinguished as an environmental industry because it processes the waste products from meat production.
Almost all tanneries use significant amounts of chemicals to turn animal hides into leather. New technologies are showing promising results in reducing water consumption in the leather industry, such as a novel process that can only dye leather brown with the moisture already present in the hides, rather than with the special equipment and chemicals required to reduce water consumption by 20 litres per hide. In addition, synthetic leather manufacturers refine their polyurethane products to reduce the amount of petroleum needed to make them. The ecological importance of traditional leather compared to vegan leather helps us understand how animal leather is produced and how it affects the environment.
Cleaner technologies are used to underline the need for a cleaner process with restrictions on product waste, such as the use of biodegradable polyurethane materials and the elimination of waste from the production process.
According to a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Union (EU), the most polluting phase of the tanning process contributes to the soaking phase. In addition, the leather aunt is also a major source of pollution, as it is used in the production of leather products such as leather shoes and leather accessories.