Environment in focus at Elmo Leather

4 September 2006

Elmo Leather have been active in reducing the environmental impact from leather production for many years and the company are continously seeking to improve their environmental performance. This has resulted in a number of actions carried out in order to make sure that the policy will be actively implemented. It has been possible to significantly reduce the environmental impact to water and air and reduce the amount of waste generated. Elmo's management system for environmental work has independent certification and the company have managed to reduce the environmental impact of their activities considerably over the years in terms of waste and emissions to air and water. By changing processes and chemicals and using best available techniques, Elmo Leather AB had come as far as was possible in tackling the pollution at source. To progress and achieve further improvements, Elmo needed to introduce a new water treatment process for the wastewater and apply innovative waste management. Water Elmo Leather's specific water consumption is around 22m3/tons of raw hide, using water from the river Ätran and also municipal water (which accounts for around 10-15% of the water consumption). Examples of measures undertaken by the company to reduce the environmental impact of the discharged water are given below. Unhairing The unhairing process is carried out in mixers. To reduce the environmental impact of substances such as COD and nitrogen in the wastewater treatment plant, filtration equipment has been installed in each of the seven mixers for the beamhouse processes, and as the process water is recirculated over the filters, hairs are filtered away. The hairs are transported via a conveyor belt to a tank where they are stored before agricultural use. Water from the liming process is transported to the sulfide oxidation plant to reduce the sulfide content. The sulfide oxidation process is carried out in eight tanks, each with a volume of 40m3. The tanks are aerated and manganese sulfate is used as a catalyst. The average reaction time is around 24 hours. Deliming using carbon dioxide Elmo Leather have been using carbon dioxide deliming for several years in order to reduce the company's overall nitrogen discharge. All hides are split after liming in order to facilitate this process. Chromium recovery Water from the chrome tanning, sammying, wet-end treatments and some other waste streams are collected in a tank. The waste chrome liquors are precipitated with sodium carbonate (alkali) at a temperature of 50-60°C. The chromium hydroxide precipitate is dissolved in sulfuric acid and the resultant chromium sulfate used for tanning after basification. Chromium content in the water after precipitation is below 1mg/l. Wastewater treatment Elmo Leather AB strive to prevent pollution at source using BAT (Best Available Technology) or even technologies better than BAT (as defined in the BREF-Document for tanneries). However, there will always be an environmental impact from tanning hides so it is necessary to also use end-of-pipe-solutions to minimise this impact. Elmo have recently built a new wastewater treatment plant in Svenljunga, using the latest technology (see Leather International September 2005). Investment in the plant totalled around €5 million (of which €913,000 came from the EU LIFE fund). The plant began operations in April 2005 and the official inauguration took place on the June 1, 2005. Final optimisation of the plant is currently underway. Further information about the wastewater treatment plant can be found on [http://www.tanwater.net] Performance of the treatment plant on selected parameters are given in Table 1. It should be noted that the plant has now been running for over a year and performance has been very stable. For example, reduction of nitrogen in the plant has never been below 85% despite the Scandinavian winter conditions. Substitution of chemicals Elmo Leather are continuously replacing potentially hazardous chemicals with other more environmentally-friendly chemicals. As a result, formulations containing acrylicamide, acryl nitrile and nonylphenol have been phased out in recent years. A major priority in recent years has been the replacement of chemicals containing nitrogen. In order to achieve this, measures implemented include introduction of hair removal during liming and carbon dioxide deliming. The reduction of nitrogen discharge achieved over the past few years can be seen in Figure 1. The amount of each chemical used is reported annually to the environmental authorities in connection with the environmental report. All Elmo Leather products are checked by an independent institution, to ensure that all substances and methods used in the production process are as harmless to the environment as possible. Hence, all Elmo leather products are tested by the German Leather Institute WGR according to their standards. In addition, the chromium-free leather is certified according to the Öko-Tex 100 standard. Waste Waste management is a high priority at Elmo Leather. The waste management policy can be divided into three priorities. 1. Prevention: to reduce the amount of waste as well as its degree of hazardousness 2. Recycling and re-use of waste 3. Improving the final disposal of waste that cannot be re-used by eg safe incineration. The option of disposal to landfill is considered only to be used as a last resort. Elmo constantly seek alternative ways to dispose of different types of waste. It is important for the company to have at least two different options for all types of waste in order to have a better position in price negotiations and also to be less vulnerable if one option for waste disposal were to disappear. The waste is sorted into more than 20 fractions and different solutions are found for every fraction. Wastes from the production processes are disposed of in the following way: hair from the unhairing process is used as fertiliser in agriculture; fleshings are sent for anaerobic digestion in biogas-production; split is mainly sent for use in gelatine-manufacture; while shavings and trimmings go to energy-production (controlled incineration). The amount of waste sent to landfill can be seen in Figure 2. Air emissions Elmo have made considerable efforts towards reduction of VOC emission and current emissions are far below the EU directive. Several measures have been implemented in recent years. Only water-based dyes are used in the finishing unit. One key factor has been the reduction in the amount of solvents in water-based products used (since even the water-based finishing products contain solvents). Furthermore, the spray guns have been changed and a new control system has been installed. In order to remove dye-particles from the spraying cabinets a water scrubbing system with a recirculation-tank was installed. The system uses a specially developed filling material to improve the separation of particles. The specific emission of solvents over the past four years (shown in Figure 3) can be compared with the EU directive which states that specific emissions should be lower than 75g/m2 produced leather (for a company the size of Elmo Leather). Energy Reducing the factory's energy consumption has been a further priority. An action plan has been introduced to cover the following: * New routines for lighting (better routines for switching off light in the premises) * New control system for the ventilation system in the finishing department * Change of IR-dryer at spraying line * New control-system for distribution of hot water to ventilation-aggregates and air heaters Part of the energy consumption is a basic consumption independent of the production volume (eg heating and lighting), while the remainder is dependent on the production level. A project is underway to accurately determine the company's basic energy consumption and relate the remaining energy consumption to the production volume. 34% of energy consumed is electric and 66% thermal energy. Development of energy-consumption, taking into account basic consumption and the production level, can be found in Figure 4 (taking 2001 to be a reference year). Transport Transport of goods has a high environmental impact, thus the following programme has been implemented: * Survey of existing situation; compilation of data for the calculation of emissions * Changing of delivery conditions for incoming goods in order to control the majority of transports; reduction of number of collections of outgoing goods * Increase number of direct deliveries and increase the filling rate during transport * Development of tools to monitor the environmental impact of transport to and from Elmo Leather AB The following standards are set for transport companies working for Elmo Leather: The carrier should have an environmental programme or policy. There are specific requirements relating to the environmental classification of the vehicles and tyres as well as the carriers' service and maintenance programme. The filling rate has increased and transport vehicles used are more environmentally friendly. This has led to a reduction in the environmental impact per ton/kilometre (see Figure 4). Conclusion Elmo Leather celebrate their 75th anniversary this year. The company have demonstrated that it is possible to combine high environmental standards with excellent product quality whilst ensuring economic sustainability. Company profile Elmo Leather AB were founded in 1931 and will celebrate their 75th anniversary in 2006. They began as a 100% shoe leather tannery and during the sixties and seventies Elmo also produced leather for the garment, furniture and leathergoods industries. In the late seventies, production was concentrated mainly on high quality upholstery leather. Marketing efforts were concentrated on export to North America, Europe and Australia. In the mid-eighties Elmo began to produce leather for the automotive industries. Today, Elmo are the world's largest manufacturer of exclusive furniture leather and one of the world's six largest suppliers to the automotive industry, with operations in about 40 different markets worldwide. Just over 95% of sales are for export. Elmo Leather consist of parent company Elmo Leather AB in Svenljunga and two wholly-owned subsidiaries, Elmo Leather Inc in the US and Elmo Trim GmbH in Germany. Elmo Leather employ 400 people, of which 360 are based in Svenljunga. In 2005, the company produced 2.5 million m2 of top quality leather. Certification In 2001, Elmo Leather achieved certification according to the environmental standard SS-EN ISO 14001-1996. The certificate has recently been upgraded to the revised standard ISO 14001-2004.

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