Leather and biotechnology have a great history

The Redwood Blog
Published:  31 August, 2015
Mike Redwood

The subject of dog faeces arose a few years ago when a Professor from Cambridge called for an update on drenching and bating. In his lectures He used the leather industry as one of the best examples of the evolution of biotechnology. 

For many tanners the fact that we once used dog dung for our (puering) bating process is a matter of acute embarrassment. It is a relief that Joseph Turney Wood and then others in Germany determined that the active ingredient was a pancreatic enzyme, which could be introduced into the tannery without sending folk out sweeping the streets. The barrels of dog dung collected in Istanbul and sent in shiploads to the kidskin tanneries in Philadelphia became part of the industry culture; one that most tanners like to forget. Indeed I had a colleague who refused to answer questions on TV about it on the grounds that it was a "horrid historic practise that we should not be reminding anyone about".

Yet one big trend around the world today, linked statistically to the reduction in family size that comes with wealth and urbanisation, is that we are keeping more pets in general and more dogs in particular. In New York what to do with faeces from pet dogs is now a matter of major consideration. Dogs apparently produce twice the waste compared to humans. The collection is easier than in the past as many owners are responsible and clean up themselves into designated bins: so the thought is that they might be used to generate power for lighting via anaerobic digesters placed in every park. 

Making leather is all about using renewable resources to the benefit of mankind, and helping society reduce its dependence on the non-renewable materials like fossil fuels whose use also has other negative implications for the environment.

We should celebrate, and perhaps revisit, our creative use of natural materials which included urine, blood, egg yolk, egg whites, smoke and even brains. The underlying technologies are all significant and allowed society to make the fullest use of the only readily available sheet material from the earliest days.    

We anticipate expanding uses of biotechnology in leather in future years. We should not be embarrassed about its past.

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Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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