The 48th AICC National Convention, entitled “Tannery and environment, the challenge of the century”, took place digitally on 4 December. An important opportunity to discuss the contribution that chemists in the tanning sector committed to provide with the aim of improving the circularity of industrial processes. In addition to AICC’s president Roberto Mariano Mecenero, two university professors, the councilor for the environment of the province of Vicenza, the vice president of the Veneto leather district and an exponent of the world’s brand names were among the speakers.
The conference opened with a surprise. From the United States, Luis Zugno, president of IULTCS, the international union of tanning chemists, who was connected through a remote service announced that in September 2022 Italy will host the European Regional Congress of the sector. IULTCS has in fact assigned to AICC, the Italian Association of Leather Chemists, the organisation of the important event dedicated to the presentation of the latest technical and scientific advances in the sector. Among other things, Zugno was not the only foreign guest. The webinar format in fact favoured the participation of other foreign chemical-tanning experts, in particular from Argentina, Brazil and the United States.
Unlike usual, the 48th AICC conference – coordinated by Paolo Gurisatti – presented itself more as a round table than a traditional congress and panelists discussed on the issues related to purification systems and circular economy. The circular economy is a concept that has always been dear to AICC, which proudly claims an ecological approach.
As President Roberto Mariano Mecenero pointed out, tanneries can be considered the first example of circular economy, given that their business arises from the recovery of waste material – leather – which, if not processed, would involve high management costs and cause an additional environmental impact for its destruction.
Entering the heart of the debate, the intervention of Alberto Lampis, Leather Raw Material Specialist for Hugo Boss, who explained the needs of luxury customers, was very interesting. The expert talked about his group’s sustainability and social responsibility objectives, including that of “working exclusively with LWG certified tanneries (or comparable scheme) by 2025. I know that there are many Italian tanneries that work very well even without being certified – Lampis said – but we need certifications to respond to pressures from environmental and animal welfare organisations, as well as to the new demands of large distributors such as Amazon and Zalando”. The brand also proposes to eliminate (or offset) CO2 emissions by 2050.
Professor David Bolzonella of the Department of Biotechnology of the University of Verona spoke of Green chemistry underlining the crucial importance of this historical moment which, in the context of the European Green Deal, sees research and industry moving on two circular economy axes and Zero Pollution. “It is becoming increasingly important for the sector to work on the issue of enhancing tanning waste for the production of proteins useful for other sectors, as well as the removal of heavy metals from wastewater and the recovery of sludge to be reused in other areas, starting with construction”.
Precisely by virtue of the Green Deal, the speech by Stefano Mammi of the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Padua focused on the need to develop new multidisciplinary skills capable of supporting the transition towards circular economy.
With this in mind, a new master’s degree course in English was created entitled “Sustainable Science & Technology for Circular Economy” which will start next year in Padua. Also Giorgio Pozza, vice president of the Veneto District and coordinator of the ITS Green Leather Manager post-diploma course of Arzignano, took care of the training needs. Also Giorgio Pozza, vice president of the Veneto District and coordinator of the ITS Green Leather Manager post-diploma course of Arzignano, took care of the training needs.
During the conference there was also much talk of purification.
Matteo Macilotti, Councillor for the Environment of the Province of Vicenza, as well as Mayor of Chiampo, focused his speech on the new purification challenges, first of all the reduction of sludge volumes and the standardisation of “white tanning” of which there is an uncountable amount of different variations. “The fact that there is no chromium in the wet white is not proof of its sustainability. As a province we want to define exactly what white tanning is and what standards it should have. We need a specification that says what is green and what is not”.
On the theme of water recovery, President Mecenero also proposed some solutions that must be studied and tested, starting with the separation of tanning, acid and basic processing waters, and the recovery of proteins from processing baths before purification. “The segregation of basic waters would allow the reduction of tanning sludge which remains the real big problem in the sector”, said Mecenero. In conclusion, Councilor Macilotti expressed the hope that regulations will soon evolve from setting limits to promoting investment incentives to achieve the sustainability objectives of the tanning sector.