The French tanning industry employs production techniques designed to protect the environment and consumer health.
Environmental standards – sustainable development
The French tanning industry has adopted environmental standards and developed technologies that show consideration for the natural environment:
With the introduction of waste sorting, disposal and recovery systems.
Water pollution control
With separate sewer systems and appropriate treatments.
In recent decades, science has helped the leather industry to reduce its water consumption by more than 60%, thanks to the development of new cleaning techniques, to the use of batch processing techniques based on clean technology, in place of rinsing, and to more efficient water management.
Most leather production – approximately 80% – now uses chromium III tanning methods. This produces a supple and soft leather that can be dyed in a wide variety of colours.
By reducing the quantity of chromium III to the exact quantities required to guarantee the quality that consumers expect of an article made of leather, the quantity of chromium discharged into the water used for the tanning process has been reduced by more than 90%.
Air pollution control
With the development of aqueous formulas to reduce emissions.
Science has enabled the leather industry to reduce emissions of organic solvents into the air by 90% for most types of leather. This reduction is due to the introduction of better systems, combined with new, more environmentally-friendly finishes.
There is ongoing investment in enhanced industrial plant and processes, with a view to reducing the environmental impact of the tanning industry.
Thanks to their ongoing efforts, a number of tanners have obtained the Entreprise Responsable et Durable [‘Responsible and Sustainable Company’] accreditation, which is awarded by the French Industrial Risk Centre (CNRI).
It should also be borne in mind that the tanning industry is first and foremost an activity based on recycling and recovering thousands of tonnes of hides and skins generated on a daily basis by slaughtering animals for their meat. What environmental impact would all this waste material have if it was not recycled by the tanning industry?
Protecting human health
Ensuring French leather safety is one of the industry’s main preoccupations
French and European standards governing chemical substances are strictly adhered to and monitored: correct proportioning of water and volatile matter; extractable matter, soluble matter and soluble mineral matter contained in leathers; and chloride ion content, to limit any adverse effects on consumer health.
The French leather industry prescribes a series of good practices to avoid generating allergenic substances and recommends the use of harmless substances such as basic chromium sulphate or vegetable tannins.
Monitoring is carried out by accredited bodies – notably CTC, Comité Professionnel de Development Economique Cuir Chaussure Maroquinerie [‘Economic Development Committee for the Footwear, Leather and Leather Goods Industry’] – using extremely high-tech tools, which can measure very low concentration levels of chemical substances – of the order of ppm (parts per million or mg per kg of leather).
Businesses are bound by French and European legislation governing installations classified on environmental protection grounds, and are supervised by the DREAL (French Regional Directorates of the Environment, Land Use and Housing) and by the Ministries of Labour, Employment, Vocational Training, Social Dialogue, Social Affairs and Health.
For mineral tanning, the French tanning industry uses chromium sulphate, also known as trivalent chromium or chromium III, which is totally harmless and poses no risk to consumers’ health. Chromium III should not be confused with chromium VI or hexavalent chromium.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
The French leather industry is the only one at international level to have been working for the past two years on its commitments in terms of being a good corporate citizen, within the framework of ISO standard 26000, which relates to CSR.
The Fédération Française de la Tannerie Mégisserie is working on this subject via two committees:
A Technical Committee, where the French Tanners Federation works with CTC, notably on the area of environment watch.
An Industry-Wide Committee covering the entire French leather industry, from upstream processing to downstream activities, with the aim of creating a set of CSR standards for the leather industry.
For further information on ISO standard 26000, please go to: http://www.iso.org/iso/home/news_index/news_archive/news.htm?refid=Ref1366