A tale of two tanneries

11 January 2010

Welcome to a special ‘environment’ edition of this publication. Environmental issues dominate our industry as they do in many other indus- trial sectors. The environment now touches every aspect of our lifestyles from recycling bottles to low energy household appliances and so on. Being a labour intensive business, many tanneries these days are located in developing countries where overall costs can be kept down, including environmental costs. In developed countries tanners have been used to tight environmental controls for some time, particularly on waste treatment, and pay a financial price for compliance, which has to be passed on to the customer.

In the past two decades many other businesses, under the burden of high
costs and to avoid closure, have relocated to developing countries but have
taken their good eco practices with them which has also raised the bar for
many locally owned tanneries.
However, there does appear to be two-tier division of tanneries in the
world when it comes to environmental control. There are those who do their
best to meet environmental standards and those that don’t. International
tanning group, PrimeAsia (see below) are in my opinion a great example of
how a modern tanning enterprise should operate when it comes to envi-
ronmental standards. PrimeAsia don’t have gold and silver accreditation
from the Leather Working Group (see page 28) at their three Asian plants
without reason. They work hard with their suppliers and customers to con-
tinuously raise standards beyond required legal/ethical tolerances in many
cases. Strict LWG audits underline this.
I believe any modern tanner should be looking through a magnifying
glass at their business’s natural resource and energy consumption, chemical
usage, recycling systems and cutting down on any, and I mean ANY waste
in every aspect of the business. Surely there must be financial benefits in
doing so?
PrimeAsia are one of a number tanners that spring to my mind around
the world that are forward looking and are prepared to invest to make long
term savings and lower their environ-
mental impact during and well after
the leather leaves the plant.
Contrast this with the August/
September edition of this publication
(page 36) when we published an arti-
cle entitled ‘Poor tannery effluent treatment compliance persists in
Bangladesh’ by Ashraful Alam of the Bangladesh College of Leather
Technology. Alam and his colleagues measured final tannery effluent dis-
charged into neighbouring rivers and agricultural land during 2007 and
2008 in a number of local tanneries. For me the results (based on four tan-
neries named in the article) were shocking. In the analysis of effluent from
Pubali Leather Industries, for example, the level of chromium discharged
was measured between 280x and 338x higher than the Bangladeshi legal
standard of 2mg/L. Samples of direct effluent discharge were described as
visually ‘blackish’ or ‘yellowish’ with pungent odours! Without casting the
whole Bangladeshi tanning industry in the same light, such tanneries in my
view should be closed until international effluent treatment standards have
been put in place and complied with. I have seen evidence of such lax envi-
ronment control at tanneries in other parts of the world, particularly in Asia,
Africa and the Middle East.
Such bad practice should have already been wiped out in our industry
long ago. Questions have to be asked why national governments are turn-
ing a blind eye while rivers are poisoned and why international agencies
such as UNIDO are not addressing the problem.
Ethically, how can a leather buyer buy from such companies? And finally,
how can tanners who do the right thing, comply with legislation and in
some instances go beyond the minimum, compete on a level playing field
with tanners such as those mentioned in Alam’s article?

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