Inspiration for a greener tanning industry from the Arzignano tanning district.

With biochemistry, the leather industry is a perfect example of a circular economy

Written by
Paolo Gurisatti economista industriale

Paolo Gurisatti industrial economist and President Stazione Sperimentale delle Pelli SSIP (Experimental Station of the Leather Industry) of Naples, has always been a friend of greenLIFE. He reports the skills he thinks will be strategic for mid- and long-term in the industry. He identifies technical competences for the Vicenza tannery district to retain its excellence and augment its appeal to young talents.

greenLIFE (gL): What do you expect are the main strategic competences to maintain industry excellence?

Paolo Gurisatti (PG): The idea that I have conceived is that the skills useful for the tanning process are those of chemicals and bio-chemicals that concern the “decomposition” of organic materials, including waste. Today, the leather sector is considered, in the collective imagination, a special segment of the wet waste chain. Operators in charge of selecting the good and recoverable waste, such as leather flower to tan with tannins and various metals, crust and some scraps like flesh, shaving, hair, is good for agriculture. The rest is thrown to landfill. The regulations all aim at controlling the quality of final waste and “sewage” waste. Today, the same supply chain will have to become a key segment of the circular economy, that is to say, the physical, chemical, and bio-chemical processes will have to be aimed at producing raw materials from an innovative breakdown to the basic elements and the molecules that make up organic products, such as hair keratins. The regulations must be aimed at certifying the quality of the regenerated products, and the second raw materials must be re-introduced to the market. Obviously, both the concepts “de-composition” and the “organic waste” should be rewritten, renamed, and redefined, since the so-called circular economy, at present, can only provoke a reaction of “horror” in people and also in young people approaching the world of work.

gL: There are limited young talents who look with interest towards the industry as a possible job provider. What is your opinion?

PG: The problem is that of elevating the role of the technician. The technician intervenes the chemical and biological decomposition of materials, a point advanced on the frontier of the science of life and not of death. They can recover and put back the basic elements inside the materials to a large extent naturally, which is at present thrown away. The molecules can also be regenerated from these elements. Chemical skills, which have so far been aimed at composing basic elements in new synthetic molecules, must be applied in reverse order, reaching the maximum possible decomposition of organic and non-organic materials to avoid their degradation in soil and waste water of poor quality. This selective decomposition of materials is the frontier on which we can re-position the sector and its competences.

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