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Italy - Arzignano shows the way forward for circular-economy leather
21 June 2019

Italian tanning company Gruppo Dani has outlined the steps it will take in the near future to take forward its quest to be a circular-economy manufacturer.

The European Commission published an action plan for the circular economy in December 2015 and there are key points in the document that suggest the leather sector can make an important contribution in the shift towards a circular economy, in Europe and worldwide.

For example, according to the document, the circular economy retains the value of products, materials and resources for as long as possible, keeping waste at the lowest level possible. It says specifically that systems in which waste or by-products from one industry become inputs for another will be important in promoting the “innovative” industrial processes that will help create a circular economy. Leather producers have, of course, being doing exactly this for millennia.

Manufacturing companies who embrace these principles and who can become effective in telling an authentic circular-economy story stand to gain substantially, the European Commission document suggests, because the Commission itself and, through its encouragement, public authorities throughout the world are going to place ever-greater emphasis on “green public procurement”. 

At the same time, the document argues that production systems that embrace the circular economy will help humanity meet a number of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, in particular Goal 12 (ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns).

In a recent presentation at Ca Foscari University in Venice, Gruppo Dani pointed to a number of initiatives that it, and partner groups in Arzignano and across Italy, have already undertaken on the path towards a circular economy. In particular, the presentation celebrated a series of projects under the banner Green Leather Industry for the Environment (greenLIFE), which the group worked on with four partners in the Arzignano leather cluster: fellow leather manufacturer Gruppo Mastrotto, leather chemicals producer Ikem, biomaterials company Ilsa and wastewater treatment plant operator Acque del Chiampo.

Two of the biggest tanners in the Arzignano cluster, Gruppo Dani and Gruppo Mastrotto launched greenLIFE as a joint initiative with the three technical partners in 2014. The projects, covering oxidative liming, lowering the volumes of chemicals and clean water in the liming process, new renewable tanning technologies, the downstream use of by-products from the tanning process in agriculture, a lifecycle assessment of the cluster’s wastewater treatment plant, and an analysis of the social and economic impacts of the new sustainable processes, ran between then and 2016.

In 2017, World Leather published a series of articles explaining each of these projects in depth; these are available in our technical library for subscribers to read. Half of the funding for these initiatives came directly from the European Commission and the money the project partners received from the European Commission amounted to millions of euros.

In the recent presentation, Gruppo Dani’s quality and sustainability manager, Guido Zilli, said his company already knew the steps it must take in the months and years ahead to continue transforming itself into a circular-economy manufacturer.

He said: “We want to increase awareness of the fact that there are two ways in which we can look at hides. They offer a substrate from which we must remove everything we don’t need for the finished product, leather. But hides are also a protein-rich raw material for other products; we must therefore start to look at the tannery as a sort of mine.”

Mr Zilli said the focus of ongoing research at Gruppo Dani includes improving “the purity” of the by-products resulting from its own operations and to drive the development of more tanning agents from bio-based sources. He said the tanning group will also strive to “go beyond its own supply chain” and talk to other sectors about its work and about the circular-economy opportunities that flow from it. 

Report courtesy of Leatherbiz