Tanners are not environmental cleansing officers

The Redwood Blog
Published:  15 July, 2014
Mike Redwood

We keep hearing that the world would crash into disaster if tanners were not around to clean up the hides and skins that the meat and dairy industry produce. We see calculations of tonnage, of volume and of numbers. There are not enough holes in ground to bury all this, we are told. But it is a struggle to see the logic in such an argument. 

Although the long-standing economic pattern takes hides and skins into tanneries as a first preference we still battle at the edges. After years of trying to get more pigskins into the leather industry tanners have backed off and accept what they are given. I well remember working with Jim Jackman in the Booth Group on devices that got at least a proportion of the skin off the pig carcass, but it never got fully accepted. Consumers like eating the skin with their bacon.

Something similar happens in places like Nigeria where up to 20% of cattle hides can find themselves eaten. The precise amount does not matter, what does is that hides and skins constitute edible proteins. Not a perfect balanced diet, but food none the less. At the recent US American Leather Chemists Association (ALCA) meeting we were reminded that the gelatine industry is struggling from a lack of raw material. They use limed splits from good quality bovine hides, which are now being pulled into the luxury leather goods trade as a result of heavy demand.

Given uses for food, for cosmetics and for medical purposes we can be certain that it would not take long for abattoirs to find alternates to leather for their hides and skins. Given the prices tanners are currently willing to pay for hides abattoirs have very little incentive to look elsewhere but they are ruthlessly efficient in they way they use every bit of the animal. Perhaps the question will soon be tested if raw prices stay high and commodity uses of lower grade hides continue to offer poor value for money against alternatives.

Tanners mix science and art to produce a truly great article, which perfectly fits the needs of a modern world worried about depleting the planet's resources. We are not managing waste and nor do our customers, paying top dollar for a valuable material, want to think of leather as such.

Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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