Ensuring Environmental Compliance for Ethiopia’s Leather Industry 

As the government plans for a Leather Industrial Park in Mojo, a joint initiative seeks to support tanneries joining the park to integrate into the global leather value chain through competitiveness gains and environmental compliance.

By Aurelia Patrizia Calabro

ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia has a long tradition of hides and skins processing methods for making handcrafted articles. Such traditional cottage industries still exist, but modern tanneries were introduced first with Asco Tannery, (now called Addis Ababa Tannery) in 1928, followed by Asco Shoe factory (now renamed Tikur Abay Shoe).

The industry bases itself on the country’s livestock resources. Indeed Ethiopia possesses one of the world’s largest livestock populations. This enormous population of livestock provides ample opportunity for the development of the leather industry. Ethiopian cattle hides are well known internationally for their fine grain pattern and good fiber structure and are ideal for making shoe uppers.

Correspondingly, the Ethiopian highland sheepskins also have a worldwide reputation in terms of quality, thickness, flexibility, strength, compact structure, and clean inner surface. It is estimated to assume for about 70 percent of the national sheepskin production is found to be very suitable for the production of high-quality leather garments, sport, and dress gloves and has great demand by the international leather market.

With the Government’s intention to develop Modjo Leather City, in addition to the present 12 tanneries, those in Addis Ababa will be relocated to Modjo in the coming years. With this opportunity, the industry will be expected to bring unintended environmental and other unfavorable impacts of the industry unless strategic actions are in place to tackle them.

The tanning industry is water and material intensive. Consequently, it generates large quantities of wastewater (containing high amounts of chemicals), solid waste, gaseous waste, and sludge. Hence environmental pollution and the waste management of the tanneries is a major environmental concerns.

The tanneries mainly use open dumping sites to dispose of solid wastes, and the wastewater generated can be treated with treatment plants. However, most of the tanneries do not use their treatment plants efficiently, as wastewater treatment consumes a high amount of energy as well as requiring trained manpower for operational and maintenance works. Hence, waste management of the tanneries is a major environmental concern in and around Modjo City. 

The Government of Ethiopia strongly upholds the concept of sustainable and carbon-neutral development. The tanning industry is expected to comply with the standards and regulations set by the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

UNIDO Representative and Director of the Regional Office Hub in Ethiopia Aurelia Calabrò

Having the fact that the tanneries generate a huge amount of solid and liquid waste (processing a ton of raw hide and skin generates 40 – 50m3 liquid waste and 750kg of solid waste). So treating this amount of waste requires know-how, proper practice, and investment.

The future Modjo Leather Industrial Park will bring an opportunity to set up an environmentally friendly leather tanning cluster driven by a network of tanneries and other businesses located in Modjo City as well as wet ends of other tanneries that will be relocated from Addis Ababa.

Clustering the tanneries and constructing a common effluent treatment plant for wastewater treatment plants and recycling of solid waste in the cluster is very important to harmonize the production process and waste management and to create an environmentally friendly, competitive, and sustainable leather manufacturing industry.   

Funded by the European Union, UNIDO and the Government sector partners implement the LISEC project with one of the outputs focusing on supporting tanneries (processing and producing finished leather) towards integration into the leather global value chain through competitiveness gains and environmental compliance.

UNIDO, Leather, and Leather Products Research and Development Center (LLPIRDC), and the Modjo City Administration are working together to establish and equip the LLPIRDC Regional Centre’s training pilot line and satellite laboratory for product finishing, development, and quality laboratory services focusing on the follow up of the environmental management of the tanneries in Modjo.

Among other plans, the project also aims to support the reduction of the environmental footprint of tanneries by facilitating their relocation into the Modjo Leather City (MLC) or plugging into the common effluent treatment plant established within the MLC.

With this regard, the project assessed the energy management practices and performances of six beneficiary tanneries against the standard recommendations made by the energy audit and waste-to-energy team. The performance results have shown that the tanneries have a long way to go towards achieving the recommendations due to shifting priorities caused by COVID and subsequent loss of market share.  

In addition, the project aims at identifying appropriate and proven technology to mitigate environmental concerns through the replacement, reduction, or re-use of chemicals that would lead to the reduction of the pollution load to the environment. Tanneries will be more aware of and adapt technologies that mitigate environmental pollution for solid and liquid waste management within their capacity to implement measures and recommendations to address environmental pollution.

As another means to tackle the pollution challenge, the implementation of the creation of the leather cluster by constructing a common effluent treatment plant and solid waste recycling island through the review and updating of the previous studies, feasibility, and environmental and social impact assessment, will be another major output supported by the project.

Targeted tanneries will benefit from the Leather Working Group (LWG) certification process, which is dedicated to driving excellence in suitable leather in sustainable leather production as well as reducing the environmental impact of leather production. They will be supported to establish a brand of leather manufacturers that comply with international Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) standards, thereby accessing preferential markets with improved pricing structures.

Implementing these interventions contributes to the Ethiopian leather sector achieving the status of a globally competitive, inclusive, and sustainable leather industry that benefits all.

The Author of the Article, Aurelia Patrizia Calabrò, is a UNIDO Representative and Director of the Regional Office Hub in Ethiopia

Editor’s note: The article was provided to the EM by Unido Ethiopia, and it reflects the authors’ opinion only, and not necessarily the views of the editorial opinion of EM News.

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