Leather is one of the most used materials in the footwear and leather goods industries, and is also employed in the manufacture of a variety of products in the clothing/garment industry as well as in furniture upholstery.
Even though the tannery industry is considered to play an important environmental role as user of a by-product of the meat industry, the different stages involved in the transformation of hides and skins into leather generate a significant amount of waste, both liquid and solid, what turns the process into a source of pollutants.
During the tanning process, a percentage of the hide/skin is rejected due to either a lack of properties or aesthetic reasons. Furthermore, hair, wool, fleshing and sebum are removed from the skins during the preparation of the raw hide and the beamhouse operations. As a result, 75-80% wt salted hides/skins become solid wastes in tanneries.
The advancement of European policy and legislation protecting the environment has prompted to transform tannery solid waste materials to valuable co-products, useful to be recycled or employed in other industries. Examples of solutions that have been proposed for untanned wastes are the preparation of organic fertilizers, production of biomaterials, gelatines or collagens and the production of biofuel.
In this sense, LIFE microTAN project focuses in the recovery in situ of collagen derivatives from nontanned wastes. Gel-forming properties of gelatine are the basis of classical applications in food, photographic, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Recently, new applications have arisen, such as their use as microencapsulating agents, which is the general project objective, in line with the growing need of functional materials for life quality improvement, as well as the increasing trend to replace raw materials from fossil sources with more natural ones.
Therefore, the main objective of LIFE microTAN is to demonstrate, on a semi-industrial scale, the technical, environmental and financial feasibility of the isolation of protein products like collagen derivatives and gelatine with specific properties, from tannery solid wastes, in order to reuse them as natural microencapsulating agents in the production of active materials with functional properties.