Biointervention Makes Leather Processing Greener:  An Integrated Cleansing and Tanning System

The do−undo methods adopted in conventional leather processing generate huge amounts of pollutants. In other words, conventional methods employed in leather processing subject the skin/hide to wide variations in pH. Pre-tanning and tanning processes alone contribute more than 90% of the total pollution from leather processing. Included in this is a great deal of solid wastes such as lime and chrome sludge. In the approach described here, the hair and flesh removal as well as fiber opening have been achieved using biocatalysts at pH 8.0 for cow hides. This was followed by a pickle-free chrome tanning, which does not require a basification step. Hence, this tanning technique involves primarily three steps, namely, dehairing, fiber opening, and tanning. It has been found that the extent of hair removal, opening up of fiber bundles, and penetration and distribution of chromium are comparable to that produced by traditional methods. This has been substantiated through scanning electron microscopic, stratigraphic chrome distribution analysis, and softness measurements. Performance of the leathers is shown to be on par with conventionally processed leathers through physical and hand evaluation. Importantly, softness of the leathers is numerically proven to be comparable with that of control. The process also demonstrates reduction in chemical oxygen demand load by 80%, total solids load by 85%, and chromium load by 80% as compared to the conventional process, thereby leading toward zero discharge. The input−output audit shows that the biocatalytic three-step tanning process employs a very low amount of chemicals, thereby reducing the discharge by 90% as compared to the conventional multistep processing. Furthermore, it is also demonstrated that the process is techno-economically viable.