“Without half measures -Leather and Sustainability, the perfect combination”: this is the title of the AICC Tuscany Conference, held last 5 July at the Teatro della Compagnia of Castelfranco di Sotto (Pisa). A highly topical issue that has given the opportunity to present some studies that confirm the sustainable nature of leather based on technical and economic criteria, indicating the new avenues of research for ever lower environmental impact.

The mayor of Castelfranco di Sotto, Gabriele Toti
The mayor of Castelfranco di Sotto, Gabriele Toti

After the greetings of Castelfranco’s mayor, Gabriele Toti, the conference opened with a speech held by AICC’s president Roberto Mariano Mecenero who immediately entered the discussion recalling how the reuse of waste from the meat industry, as skins and hides, is a source of pride for tanners, who transform it into a precious raw material chosen by the most important fashion labels, but underlining how much effort is still needed on the part of the sector to overcome the prejudices of those who still look at this industrial sector with suspicion.

Franca Nuti, AICC vice president
Franca Nuti, AICC vice president
AICC’s president Roberto Mecenero
AICC’s president Roberto Mecenero

Next to speak was AICC’s Vice-President Franca Nuti who, as a member of the IULTCS Environment Commission, told colleagues about the salient issues that emerged at the recent leather chemists World Congress held in Dresden at the end of June. In particular, Nuti spoke of the importance of the second edition of a Unido study entitled “The framework for sustainable leather manufacturing” which introduced key concepts such as the environmental footprint (Carbon Footprint), the LCA (life cycle assessment of products), the list of restricted substances (RSL), in which one is invited to think about the end-of-life of a product already in the planning phase. The general concepts on which we still have to work in the production phase – says Unido research – are the reduction of resource consumption, biodegradability, low environmental impact and high process efficiency.

Paolo Masoni, Eco-innovation
Paolo Masoni, Eco-innovation

The same themes were also discussed by engineer Paolo Masoni of Ecoinnovation who presented a study on “The synergies between Life Cycle Assessment and the actions for the circular economy”. Masoni explained how the evaluation of the life cycle of the products serves to identify the critical environmental points on which to intervene, as well as to quantify the environmental footprint. The expert spoke about waste management and the need to stimulate the secondary raw materials market and the reuse of water.

Every intervention to transform scraps/waste into a new resource requires a technological process that produces an impact (energy consumption, other resources, emissions): it is therefore necessary to verify with the LCA that the benefit obtained with the new resource is counterbalanced by additional impacts.

Ultimately, the circular economy – said Masoni – intends to extend the value of materials and products. This can also allow great potential environmental benefits, but it is necessary to always check them first.

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Tiziana Gambicorti, head of the Tuscan district of the Italian Leather Research Institute, spoke of how to “Measure sustainability: norms, methods and limits”. “The concept of sustainability – she explained – is embodied through the measurement of real quantities concerning resource consumption, waste production, the recovery of by-products and scraps and the characteristics of the goods produced”.

Domenico Castiello of Poteco presented a study that compares the environmental impact of leather production with that of synthetic materials, in favour of the first one, highlighting in particular the great problem of microplastics for which there is at present no recovery process and which are spread in the environment with enormous damage for the whole planet.

Francesco Spennati from Cuoiodepur presented a paper entitled “Towards a new paradigm for the treatment of tanning wastewater”, while the consultant Unido Sauro Di Sandro spoke of “Exporting Sustainability”. The expert made a roundup of the main tanning districts of the world, from Bangladesh to Argentina, highlighting how some projects for the requalification and relocation of tanneries are giving life to eco-compatible industrial parks like the ones of Robikki (Egypt) and Tuzla (Turkey).

The conference concluded with a summary of the international Leather Naturally initiative which is about to launch a promotional campaign in favour of leather through social media aimed at younger generations.