Leather Has Excellent Tensile Strength

Leather is a material, built out of natural fibers. Like the animal skin it originally was, it is made to move, stretch, and endure. One of the properties in which leather excels is its tensile strength. Find out in the video below, what that means and why it is so important for the lifetime of the car seats you use every day.

Unused Hides Leather And The Rendering industry

In Article10 Minutes

Month: April 2021

People eat meat and, as a result, we have many by-products on our hands. We can use these by-products for various applications, such as tanning hides/skins for leather and rendering (recycling) other products not fit for human consumption. Yet, the utilisation of these animal by-products is decreasing, as more and more people buy into synthetic alternatives. However, the irony is, meat consumption is increasing.

What does that mean? It leaves us with immense amounts of (organic) leftovers and if we look at our global consumption levels, simply disposing of them is not a sustainable option; however, this is the unfortunate truth.

Waste from food production

Meat production results in lots of by-products, often over 40% of the animal, depending on the location (however, it can be over 50% for cattle). These by-products include waste from preparation and processing, and rendering of meat and other animal foodstuffs (e.g., bones, tendons, skin, internal organs and blood) to obtain fats and proteins. Utilising these by-products is essential for preventing this material from ending up in the environment. Why? Let’s look at some numbers.

Rendering numbers in the EU (annually):

  • Slaughtered:
    • 218 million pigs, sheep, goats, beef, and dairy cattle
    • 6 billion chicken, turkey, and other poultry
  • Fallen stock:
    • 2.45 million tons collected*

*Fallen stock is collected from the farms within 24 hours for health & safety reasons.

That’s a lot of potential waste so it makes sense to re-use it if possible. However, not everything can be re-used. The Animal By-products regulations define what is and isn’t safe – and any material containing dangerous bacteria or fungi will not be used.

The rendering industry explained

Rendering is performed through heating, which dehydrates, sterilizes, and separates the animal by-products into fat, protein (including collagen and processed proteins fit for human consumption at the point of slaughter), meat and bone meal. The by-products are categorised according to the source of the material as part of the Animal By-products Regulations. These categories set limits on how the by-products can be treated or re-used.

  • Category 1: Any animal by products that contain infections or disease are classed as Category 1 and must be incinerated according to the legislation. This means that they cannot and will not be made into by products, and any risk they pose is dealt with through the requirements. Such materials include carcasses, materials suspected/confirmed of being infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), materials containing prohibited substances, or specific risk material (SRM) generated from floor waste.
  • Category 2: On-farm deceased animals, manure, digestive tract content or by-products of animals exceeding levels of certain substances (e.g., therapeutic drugs).
  • Category 3: Material previously fit for human consumption (e.g., catering waste) or material currently fit for human consumption, but not intended for due to economic reasons, problems of manufacturing or packaging defects. Category 3 material also includes animal by-products derived from processing products for human consumptions and blood from healthy ruminants.

Utilising these by-products is essential for preventing this material from ending up in the environment

Examples of rendering products we use

  • Rendered products in food: collagen is used for gelatine, dried beef fat is used in cake mixes, bones are used to make broth. Fat is used for frying (like tallow), pork cracklings and edible fats in bakery products (e.g., croissants & pastries).
  • Rendered products in feed: feather, skin & bone meals in animal and aqua feed. Proteins in animal feed, but also phosphorous as fertilizer.
  • Rendered products in fuel: meat and bone meal are used for fuelling power stations but also transformed into biofuels and bioliquids. Tallow is also used as fuel.

Fact: Animal by-products provide enough phosphorous to fertilize 21,420 km2, which is about 20 times the size of Luxembourg.

There are many other applications for rendered by-products. Tallow can also be used to grease machinery, whereas other by-products can be reused in printing, skincare and healthcare (e.g., the lubricant on condoms). Animal by-product rendering is about making much of our lifestyle possible.

A strictly regulated industry

Rendering of by-products is something that most consumers are not aware of or do not like to concern themselves with. However, none of the above rendering products should alarm you or be cause for concern. The rendering industry and the categorization of its products are tightly regulated and bound by many rules.

Rendering involves either processing or incineration. For example, the dangerous materials in category 1 are used as fuel for incineration. Only low-risk materials are processed into products we actually use, and even then, processing lines of different categories and species are strictly separated. For example, bone meal, of bovine origin, cannot be processed into a bovine feed and, therefore, bone meal from terrestrial animals is often used in aquafeed instead. There is ethical reasoning behind this species separation; however, it is also due to the risk of diseases associated with cannibalism. This type of regulation tells you a lot about the ethical standards and care inherent to this industry.

What if we stopped using leather?

The hide makes up a significant amount (approximately 7%) of the total animal weight; however, the hide’s value has dropped significantly due to availability excess. What could we do with the hides/skins if we didn’t use them as leather? The only real solution for leather would be rendering, as hides and skins are rich in collagen, a highly useful resource, particularly in skincare products. Hides/skins fall into category 1 by-product (unless the animal was diseased), which means they are fit for use in food, feed and other applications. However, the question is, what would happen with such an abundant amount of additional waste as the demand for animal by-products is dropping. The irony remains, that people opt to use fewer animal by-products in other applications but eat more meat (thus perpetuating a cycle where we have more waste from the food industry and produce plastic non-degradable alternatives)—a great cause for concern.

Rendering of by-products is part of the animal’s full lifecycle, which starts at the farm (and is also changing with the emergence of regenerative practices). It is a sign of respect to use everything and not just let it go to waste. The sustainability alliance believes rendering of by-products and leather production are both involved in reducing waste. Plastics are not the solution for a lower environmental impact. These industries embody the original recycling principles. After all, there should be 4 R’s in the adage: reduce, reuse, recycle, render -and of course, leather fits right into the same principle.

Reference And Sources Used

  1. Meeker, D. (2006) An overview of the rendering industry. Fats and Proteins Research Foundation. Retrieved from: ResearchGate. [Accessed on 5 November 2020]
  2. Jayathilakan, K., Sultana, K., Radhakrishna, K. et al. (2012) Utilization of by-products and waste materials from meat, poultry and fish processing industries: a review. J Food Sci Technol 49, 278–293. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-011-0290-7 
  3. Cummins,E. Curran, T. (2014). Biosystems Engineering Research Review 19. Retrieved from: ResearchGate. [Accessed on 5 November 2020]
  4. EFPRA, Glossary for the animal by-product processing sector. Retrieved from: EFPRA [Accessed on 5 November 2020]
  5. Consolidated text: Regulation (EC) No 1069/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 laying down health rules as regards animal by-products and derived products not intended for human consumption and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1774/2002 (Animal by-products Regulation). Retrieved from: EUR-Lex [Accessed on 5 November 2020]
  6. Haug, I., Draget, K. (2011) Handbook of Food Proteins. Woodhead Publishing Series in Food Science, Technology & Nutrition
  7. Zane, P (1996) It ain’t just for meat; it’s for lotion. New York Times. Retrieved from: New York Times. [Accessed on 5 November 2020]
  8. The Sustainability Alliance (2020) Rendering and Leather Reduce Environmental Impact. Retrieved from: The Sustainability Alliance. [Accessed on 5 November 2020]

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    When It Comes To Leather Sustainability, There’s Nothing To Hide

    In Article9 Minutes

    Month: April 2021

    In a recent article, industry commentator Mike Redwood observed that issues relating to traceability and transparency are increasingly important in the world of business and these issues are no less important in the leather industry. Consumers are driven more and more by ethical concerns and need reassurance that their choices are sustainable.

    While the leather industry, particularly the automotive leather sector, faces unique challenges thanks to extended supply chains, it is doing more than ever to provide reassurance by putting robust tracing systems in place. Interestingly along with many other sectors, the leather industry is finding that transparency is a smart business move.

    Redwood recalls a simpler age when every animal hide that came to a tannery would have unique marks indicating its provenance. There was a sense of connection between the processors, suppliers and the farmers – with animal husbandry at its core. But in today’s world, is that connection and care still possible?

    Responsible and transparent leather production
    Redwood cites the example of the fashion industry that is plagued with stories of bad practice and exploitation and supervised by loose regimes overseen by disinterested box-tickers. Somehow the leather industry gets tarred with the same brush. However, particularly regarding the European auto leather sector, there really should be no comparison. For example, Tatiana Shanina points out in her article ‘How traceability and plant-based material innovations are cleaning up the leather supply chain’, “some manufacturers source directly from slaughterhouses and can, therefore, trace their leather back to the animal”. Shanina also highlights the work done by the Leather Working Group who, she says, “is working with industry stakeholders to encourage and establish benchmarks for more responsible and transparent leather production”.

    High tech tracing
    The use of high-tech solutions to trace leather from producer to tannery is increasing and, this is a much more reliable method than the traditional marking of hides. Shanina gives the example of the ‘Syndicat Général des Cuirs et Peaux’ (French Hides Association) which is “currently collaborating with the CTC (Conseil National du Cuir) on implementing a new traceability process based on laser technology. This tool will allow them to (re)produce and easily ‘read’ a unique ID number given to an animal at its farm of origin or abattoir through permanent laser marking, enabling traceability from the raw hide until the finished leather.” Additionally, other companies such as BLC, Advanced DNA Services and Haelixa are working on a DNA traceability scheme which they suggest “signifies a new, more reliable way of tracing leather to its source, in comparison to existing hide stamping and barcode techniques”.

    Enhancing supply chain transparency
    Meanwhile, there are many other initiatives currently underway aimed at enhancing supply chain transparency. The Leather Working Group and the Sustainable Leather Foundation includes a section in their audit protocol and standards to assess a supplier’s ability to trace its raw material back to the slaughterhouse. Furthermore, the UNECE Sustainable Textile and Leather Traceability project is working with multiple industries to develop a futureproof system for traceability.

    As we have reported before, the automotive leather sector has recently been investing in systems and technologies for full traceability in their manufacturing and, as a result, can offer customers peace of mind when it comes to the sustainability of their production process. Tanneries are also working closer than ever with meat producers to implement more robust traceability systems because of the EU food standards (some hide components end in food grade gelatin). It is worth pointing out here, incidentally, that 100% of animals used for automotive leather are slaughtered primarily for meat consumption. The hides/skins are, therefore, a by-product that would otherwise go to waste. Not only that, but automotive leather tanners also use leather sourced from the European meat industry, which is governed by the highest standards of animal welfare in the world. The downstream traceability is also enhanced because cut car seat components are carefully traced in case of quality claims by the final consumer.

    Highest standards
    Although there is no specific EU legislation for the leather industry, measures concerning the environment, chemical usage, the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances, and using animal by-products, do apply. Therefore, the impression sometimes given by opponents of an unregulated industry are untrue: on the contrary, the EU currently has no fewer than “143 standards with relevance to leather products”.

    From threat to opportunity
    Above all, there is now an ongoing willingness within the leather industry to address sustainability and transparency issues in general. It is driven, in part, by sustainability being the belief of the Twenty-First Century and, admittedly, also by pressure from NGOs with their own agendas. However, another motivation is even stronger: it simply makes good business sense to be open. In the article ‘Supply Chain Collaboration for Transparency’ the authors refer to a fashion group that felt pressured by an influential NGO to disclose information about their supply chain. The group reacted and shared the information reluctantly at first, with the sole aim of protecting their brand image. However, the very act of sharing information changed the groups perspective “from a legitimacy driven reactive approach toward an ethics driven proactive approach”. In short, the fashion group discovered that it was possible to turn what seemed like a threat into an advantage – something more and more ethical leather businesses are coming to appreciate.

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