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The leather industry's commitment to the environment

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Several EU regulations contribute to a more environment-friendly tanning industry.

The tanning industry aims to achieve environmental protection objectives such as waste reduction, recycling and recuperation of secondary raw materials. The main environmental measures affecting this sector are Directive 96/61/EC, on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC), the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC and the REACH Regulation.

To remain competitive in the global market place, European leather producers must exploit more efficiently their raw materials and avoid wasting collagenous material (hides and skins) that constitutes valuable raw material for other industries and agriculture. Wasting raw materials creates waste which has high adverse environmental and cost implications. By-products should be either reused/recycled or converted into new, higher value products.

Accordingly, EU tanners are adjusting their production towards higher quality output and high fashion content leathers. Modernisation of the sector also concerns all the investments made by EU tanners in environmental protection, waste reduction, recycling, recuperation of secondary raw materials, etc. The impact of environmental regulation on the leather tanning industry is considerable. The industry estimates that environmental protection costs amount to 5% of all operational costs.

The main environmental directive that directly affects the leather tanning industry is Directive 96/61/EC concerning Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC): plants for the tanning of hides and skins where the treatment capacity exceeds 12 tonnes of finished products per day are subject to the IPPC Directive. The European IPPC Bureau organises this exchange of information and produces reference documents (BREFs) which Member States are required to take into account when determining best available techniques generally or in specific cases. The BREF for tanning of hides and skins, adopted in 2003, is currently being revised due to significant new developments (e.g. chromium containing sludge, air emissions, VOC Directive, NPE Directive).

The sector is obliged under the river basin management plans (Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC) to take measures to reduce water pollution if the discharge from a plant contributes towards the pollution of a body of water, preventing compliance with the "good status" criteria.

It is also affected by the new REACH Regulation on chemicals, being an important downstream user of a wide variety of chemical preparations. The sector faces a risk related to the vulnerability of low volume chemicals of critical importance to leather production and products, such as potentially significant reformulation costs, withdrawal from the market and time-to-market problems. However, REACH can also bring business benefits by increasing innovation in leather chemicals.

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