Environmental awareness non-existent

28 May 2008

The Technological Institute for Footwear and Related Industries (INESCOP), together with the Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), are cooperating in a LIFE-Third countries project entitled ‘Demonstration of Clean Technologies in the Tanning Process' (Ecotan). Within the framework of this project, an analysis of Egyptian tanneries environmental situation has been carried out. The results are summarised in the following article.

At present, the tanning sector plays an important role in the economies of the various Mediterranean countries, as it supplies the leather related sectors (footwear, belts, bags, manufacturing etc) with the required raw materials needed for production. Furthermore, it makes use of the excess waste from slaughterhouses. In Egypt, the tanning industry plays a significant role in the domestic economy, producing around 130 million sq ft of tanned leather. This industry represents about 8,000 employees in around 320 companies that are mostly located in Cairo and Alexandria and are, in the main, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).  To improve the competitiveness, value-addition and profitability of the tanning sector in Egypt, both the environmental conditions of the Egyptian tanneries and the production processes of Egyptian tanning methods need to be adjusted to be environmentally friendly with better health and safety conditions. The direct impact of this approach is the adaptation of the Egyptian tanneries to the environmental requirements and regulations that must be fulfilled in certain countries, which import leather from Egypt. With the object of increasing awareness about the needs and advantages of using friendly environmental methods in tanning processes in the Egyptian tanneries, the Technological Institute for Footwear and Related Industries in Spain (INESCOP) together with the Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) have been collaborating since January 2005 on the European LIFE project with support from the European Commission partially financing the costs. Since the beginning of the Ecotan project, different activities have been carried out: the elaboration of a questionnaire regarding environmental issues that was completed by 25 Egyptian tanning companies, a diagnostic report including a compilation of the main results obtained from the questionnaires in addition to carrying out Initial Environmental Reviews in different Egyptian tanneries. These activities have allowed a better understanding of the present environmental situation in Egyptian tanneries, with the objective of knowing the sector's main environmental needs. Most of the Egyptian tanneries are located in Misr al Kadima district (old Cairo), also known as the ‘Tanners' District' (Sour Magra EL Ayoun), in the South of Cairo. The tanneries located in this area are suffering from a cycle of pollution in addition to the very poor state of their infrastructures. Furthermore, the tanneries in this area use obsolete machinery, without almost any clean technologies being implemented. Generally, the tanneries of old Cairo suffer from deficiencies in the state of the buildings, and the electrical and hydraulics facilities, as well as unorganised distribution of the production process in plant and an insufficient state of order and cleanliness. This situation is caused, partly, by the age of the facilities, which do not only influence the environmental situation, but also the productivity and the quality of the final product.   The Egyptian tanning factories often consist of one or several buildings that have several stores in which different activities in different floors are carried out where generally there is a significant lack of proper lighting and healthy conditions. In general, the tanneries carry out: beamhouse, tanning, dyeing, and finishing processes. The most used leathers are bovine leathers and buffalo hides, small and large in size, in addition to other types of leather such as caprine. Most significant aspects In order to transform the leather into a durable material suitable for the manufacturing of finished goods, the tanner uses a series of chemical products and water. As a result, liquid waste is produced that carries the leather's organic matter and remains of chemical products. In addition, there is solid waste from the mechanical operations and emissions into the atmosphere (solvents from finished products, gases from the combustion in the boilers etc). Egyptian tanneries, in general, do not have easy access to environmental information and often lack anyone who is responsible for environmental issues. The workers do not receive any type of environmental training, although from the responses to the questionnaire training appeared to have been of interest. In Figure 1 the formative needs of the Egyptian tanneries are shown, indicating that there are needs for training in practically all of the main environmental factors. Energy Energy saving means a clear environmental benefit due to the fact that it reduces the consumption of un-renewable natural resources (oil and coal for example) and the emission of atmospheric pollutants is avoided (ie CO2). Improving and reducing energy consumption must, therefore, be an environmental objective for the tanneries, which also implies a reduction in economic costs. Most of the Egyptian tanneries rarely apply any type of energy reducing practice. Furthermore, some tanneries do not have the necessary corresponding records available (delivery notes, invoices etc), which means it is difficult to estimate annual consumption in order to exercise control and evaluate the impact on the environment.  However, some information about annual electricity costs are available, and range from: 0.15/1,000 ft² to 70.76/1,000 ft². After electricity, gas oil is the next most used energy source and is mainly used for heating water in the boilers that produce vapour at different stages of the production process. Here, there is a variation that ranges from 300 to 40,000 litres annually. Furthermore, the companies also admit to using other sources like fuel oil and oils, but these energies represent small percentages.  Water Most operations use water and in order to reduce water consumption, and thus the costs, it is advisable to know the quantity of water being consumed annually in the tannery. Egyptian tanneries, in general, use water from the local network but, as with the topic of energy consumption, the majority of companies do not know the amount of water that they consume annually. Generally, the deteriorated infrastructure of the Egyptian tanneries hinders the installation of water treatment plants that would treat wastewater prior to transfer into the sewer system. Figure 2 shows that most of the companies that participated in the study do not treat wastewater before it is dumped. This is an inconvenience that is partly due to lack of physical space for constructing a sewer treatment plant within the company.     In the same way, puddles and flooded areas are often produced, resulting in risks to workers. Emissions With regards to atmospheric emissions, in general, there are several emission sources in the Egyptian tanneries coming from combustion gases produced in the boilers, the extraction hoods of the finishing cabins and emissions from particles coming from the grinding and dusting machines etc. These sources emit substances that are harmful to health and the environment, such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), sulfurs, carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides etc.    In spite of the existence of sources of atmospheric pollutants, the Egyptian tanneries do not measure these polluting sources, or apply preventative measures. Waste materials The waste materials from tanning companies can be classified in two groups: dangerous and non-dangerous. This classification is necessary, as its future management and storage will depend on it. It has been observed that, in general, there are no storage zones available for dangerous and non-dangerous wastes. Furthermore, it has been noted that the different types of dangerous waste are not separated, which could make them even more dangerous; nor is the non-dangerous waste, which diminishes the ability of evaluating them later. During the production process, chemical products that produce large amounts of packaging wastes are used. This can be considered as a dangerous product as they have contained dangerous chemical products. An incorrect management of this type of waste has been detected. Regardless of whether the barrels have contained dangerous or non-dangerous chemicals, they are reused to contain substances that are different from what they originally contained. Additionally, the packaging waste is mixed with other waste without separation.     The solid waste that proceeds from the beamhouse stage is sold to gelatine manufacturers. The rest of the solid waste, such as leather trimmings (before and after finishing), tanned and non-tanned shavings, dust from the grinding process, polluted material etc, are stored together, regardless of how dangerous they may be. In the cases where there were storage areas for dangerous waste, they lacked the following adequate conditions: good ventilation, waterproofed floor, retention of accidental spillages etc. In many cases, unlabelled or wrongly labelled barrels were found and, in general, the conditions in which the chemical products are stored are insufficient to correctly prevent risks.  With regards to waste storage time, the Egyptian tanneries generally do not know how long the waste is being stored. Furthermore, there is no control over the use of products that have been determined dangerous or the concentration of them that can be used in the final product. This last fact is important for trading with other countries where the concentration of dangerous chemical waste is controlled when producing leather. Extinguishers at the various facilities seem to be situated in an arbitrary way and did not seem to be subjected to regular maintenance. Conclusions

  • Most of the Egyptian tanneries have difficulty in accessing information about the environment and possible applications for their company
  • In general, there is not a person in charge of environmental issues and there is scarce training and awareness with regards to environmental issues
  • In most cases, the environmental obligations that must be fulfilled are unknown, which makes it even more difficult for Egyptian tanneries to meet existing regulations
  • Egyptian tanneries have shown interest in knowing more about environmental issues and in training their workers accordingly
  • In general, Egyptian tanneries do not know how much energy and water is consumed, a practice that could improve saving natural resources
  • In general, Egyptian tanneries' industrial landfill sites are not treated, meaning that the amount of polluted wastewater is expected to be quite high
  • Waste management in some Egyptian tanneries is inadequate, with regards to separating it into categories (dangerous and non-dangerous)
  • Management of waste is generally not known
  • Egyptian tanneries generally do not know how long dangerous waste can be stored
  • In general, the security methods used in the dangerous waste materials warehouse should be improved
  • In most cases the atmospheric emissions from the Egyptian tanneries have not been measured, meaning that it is not known if the companies are within the limits that are permitted by law
  • None of the surveyed Egyptian tanneries have measured the level of sound emissions
In summary, all of the environmental aspects that have been studied could be improved, although it should be highlighted that the Egyptian tanneries have expressed their concern in environmental issues, which is the first step in improving their behaviour with regard to the environment. A good way of improving the environmental situation of Egyptian tanneries is the design and promotion of clean technologies that can be applied to the sector. For this reason, the Ecotan project's main objective is the demonstration of clean technologies to be applied in the Egyptian tanning sector, as well as making them more aware of the need of applying more environmentally friendly processes. This practice could contribute to reinforcing environmental policy and serve as an example for other developing countries.    To achieve the Ecotan project's objective, an environmental laboratory has been created to carry out different environmental tests and measurements such as emissions, noise and water. A pilot tanning plant will be designed and implemented as well as a wastewater treatment pilot plant in order to show Egyptian tanneries the benefits of using clean technologies in the tanning processes.  All these activities will be achieved by training and teaching the Egyptian technicians and workers. At the end of the project it is hoped that an environmental infrastructure will be established and consolidated in Egypt and that this will be capable of showing and promoting the use of clean technologies in the country. In this way the environmental situation of the Egyptian tanneries will be able to progressively improve and the implementation of existing environmental standards will be more effective.   Lastly, the Egyptian government's initiative to start up a general plan to develop the Egyptian tanneries has stood out. The tanneries that are situated in the ‘Tanners' District' at present, will be relocated in the industrial zone called El Robaiky in Badr City, which is 50km away from Cairo. The objective of this plan is to establish an industrial zone for the Egyptian tanneries that will represent the latest and best technologies available to the sector, as well as different measurements of improving the industrial, social, environmental and economic levels. In this sense, the Ecotan project can contribute to the success of this Initiative. Authors Alejandra Allepuz*, Joaquín Ferrer*, Enrique Montiel*, Dr Hany Brarakat**, Hamdy Hasouna**, Dalia Megahed**, Tamer Hosny**, Reeham Magdy**, Ayman Nageh**, Sobhy Samir** *Technological Institute for Footwear and Related Industries (INESCOP) ** Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI)

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