One example is that of Egypt where Italian know-how and technology will construct a tanning zone outside Cairo for the relocation of the industry away from the city. Using examples from home, Assomac Servizi srl will construct tanneries to suit various sizes of operation and different types of production rather like a new housing development where you select the size and style of house to be built which will best suit your needs.

While 2003 was a pretty dismal year for the tanning industry as a whole, Italy still leads the way in technology and overseas delegations still come to the country to look at the machinery and equipment and study the way in which regional tanning areas operate.

There are several tanning clusters in Italy with four areas in Tuscany alone. Taking Santa Croce as a prime example, raw materials from all around the world come for processing. There are different species, different sources: lamb, calf, sheep, goat etc and these are destined for a wide variety of end uses: shoes, leathergoods, garments and upholstery.

Italy represents 60% of Europe’s sole leather production and Santa Croce is responsible for 90% of Italian sole leather production. Currently, there is a number of new tannery construction projects being carried out in the area but, sadly, there are also rumours of others closing and short time working.

In all, 300,000 metric tonnes of raw materials are consumed with final production aimed at the quality end. Since there is a need for quality raw hides, there is always an interest in raw hide improvement programmes in order to meet the high demand for first grade raw materials.

The tanneries in the Consorzio Conciatori di Fucecchio began by processing from the raw only but due to various export restrictions they are now importing an increasing quantity of semi-processed such as wet-blue from Russia. They do not regard this as the ideal procedure but have adapted to the reality of the supply market. With the loss of raw supplies, they have responded by forming cooperative joint ventures with, say, Ukraine where they contract to take a certain quantity and may send their own technician to control the process.

The exporting country benefits by exporting a more value-added product while Italy bows to the inevitable. They manage to retain as much control of the process as possible.

While tanneries tend to be small so may not have the resources to send a technician, they realise that the way forward is through joint ventures.

Consorzio Conciatori di Fucecchio is a common effluent treatment operation which serves 50 tanneries. There are strict laws in Italy with regard to environmental welfare and they work on the polluter pays principle for waste and emissions. It puts a 5% cost burden on the producer. There are 400 tanneries in the Santa Croce district which generates an income of €2.5 billion. With 5% of this going for environmental costs, the bill is a hefty one.

For one kilo of raw hide you get 300-400 grams of finished leather of which 50% constitutes chemical components; the rest is discharged as waste. The aim, therefore, is to reutilise as much as possible.

They do not discharge chrome but recover it and recycle it. Fleshings, gelatine etc for by-products, sludge for compost or building materials.

Everything goes for further processing where possible. 20,000 cubic metres/day of tannery waste is produced in the tanning area as a whole with 30kg sludge from 1 cubic metre processed. Costs are obviously reduced for production which is from the wet-blue stage on.

Tanneries have to adhere to the upper limits of discharge imposed on them, or face closure if they exceed. If they want to expand, they need authorisation in order to increase their production/discharge limits.

It is estimated that the cost per cubic metre is €6 with 50% roughly spent on treating the sludge. The other €3 is for treating the water from which suspended solids have been removed. The plant now has new technology installed which is converting sludge to bricks.

The plant also has a patented system of treatment which reduces sulfide. The critical point of wastewater treatment plants is through the transformation of sulfide to an inert compound which is both colourless and odourless. More than a year of working experience, through management modification, allowed them to solve the problem by conversion of sulfide or sulfur.

A batch system works in a similar way to a chemical reactor. The treatment of wastewater with a high pH value and containing the largest amount of sulfide is mixed with liquid oxygen and a manganese catalyst and the pH is then checked.

Tanneries in Fucecchio

One of the best known tanneries in Fucecchio is that of Zabri. This is because in addition to their crust calf suede and leather production, they are also highly visible through their wide range of different finishes which are featured regularly in the Lineapelle trend selection area.

They say they offer: ‘every kind of finishing, patterns and colours on the basis of customers’ demands’ and provide substances from 0.6-0.8mm for garments and 1.1-2.0 for footwear and leathergoods.

A quick trawl through their finished range includes lamé, brushed, waterproof, washable, embossed, waxed, reptile looks and a multitude of patterns. Zabri were established in 1971 by the present director Mario Brillanti in Santa Croce and were transferred to Fucecchio in 1982.

Another tannery is Dallas which is one of three in a group headed by Giovanni Castini and Fiorello Billeri. The tannery has recently been extended with the addition of a new department containing one large drum and three standard 50 ton capacity drums for liming. A new hair save system has been installed. It was stated that 40% of the weight of goat skin is accounted for by hair. The hair is collected in boxes for reutilisation. The keratin in waste hair can be used for fertiliser, brushes etc.

The plant is automated which reduces the possibility of human error and, therefore, waste and makes the product more consistent.

Raw materials

The year 2003 was a year to forget according to Unionpelli (Unione Nazionale Commercio Pelli Grezze). A continuous and steady decline in prices was witnessed, plus low demand for finished goods which reduced work for the tanneries.

Added to this, there was the American crisis with the value of the dollar shrinking against the euro and this put the finishing touches on the ‘black picture’ and the conclusion by the association that the year 2003 was ‘completely unfavourable’.

National slaughter for the period January to August 2003 was as follows:

Cattle/buffalo 2,703,953 (-3.3%)

Pig 8,714,461 (+1.9%)

Sheep/goats 3,439,995 (-4%)

Horse 125,400 (-6%)

National hide production for the same period calculated in tons amounted to:

Cattle 75,874

Calf 10,550

Sheep/goats 15,480

Horse 2,383

When it comes to foreign trade, the figures cover a period from January to September 2003. Slightly more cattle, buffalo and equine hides were imported from the rest of the world than from other European countries: 128,381 tons as compared with 113,898 tons from EU countries.

These hides arrive in all forms: fresh, wet-salted, dry-salted, limed and pickled in weights from 8-16kg.

International imports of sheep and lambskins amounted to 1,771 tons with a further 1,793 tons coming from within the EU; 270 tons of goat skins came from non-EU countries, 484 tons from the EU; 45 tons of pig skins were imported from the rest of the world while only 0.3 tons came from within the EU.

With exports, hides going to overseas countries amounted to 12,967 tons with another 11,456 traded within the European Union. Sheep and lamb accounted for 1,099 tons to non-EU countries with 2,146 remaining in Europe. Outside countries took 3 tons of goat skins, Europe 0.6 tons. Pig skins amounting to one ton were exported to the rest of the world with only 0.08 tons remaining in the EU.

Figures for 2002 have also been submitted but it is impossible to make direct comparisons because they cover a period from January to October. However, total Italian bovine slaughter at 4,283,582 was up by 2.8%; porcine, 12,725,209 + 2.2%; sheep/goat at 5,153,948 was -9.9% owing to ‘blue-tongue’ disease.

National hide production in January-October 2002 was 120,287 tons; calves 16,677 tons and sheep/goats 23,193 tons. Imports of hides amounted to 175,972 tons from overseas countries and 182,481 tons were from EU countries; sheep and lambskins from overseas countries 2,291 tons and 3,072 tons from the EU; goats 782 tons and 637 tons; pigs 83 tons and 0.2 tons.

Exported hides to the tune of 13,787 tons went to non-EU countries and 9,858 tons to the EU. Sheep and lamb exports were 1,706 tons and 3,738 tons; goats 23 tons and 25 tons; and pigs 313 tons and 42 tons, respectively.