Recycling helps tanneries weather the water crisis

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on June 17, 2019

Five years ago, a large unit used to consume nearly 2,00,000 litres of water a day but after adopting the Zero Liquid Discharge norms, it uses just 20,000 litres (file photo)   -  THE HINDU

‘Due to Zero Liquid Discharge norms and recycling, water use is down by 80 per cent’

Despite severe drought conditions in Tamil Nadu’s North Arcot district, it is business as usual for the leather industry — which consumes enormous quantities of water — in clusters such as Ambur, Vaniyambadi and Ranipet. This is because the sector’s water consumption has dropped by nearly 80 per cent thanks to the adoption of Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD). The leather industry should be thanking the Madras High Court for this transformation.

In 2007, the Court stopped the industry from letting out untreated effluents containing toxic chemicals and acids into the Palar river, farms and waste land. Despite the high cost, tanneries adopted ZLD. They established the membrane-based (reverse osmosis) effluent treatment ,process to recycle water for use in the production process.

Five years ago, a large unit used to consume nearly 2,00,000 litres of water a day, but today it uses just 20,000 litres. Similarly, a small unit consuming around 20,000 litres a day now uses just 2,000, said Israr Ahmed, Managing Director, Farida Group, a leather manufacturer in Ambur.

Hundreds of water tankers that used to criss-cross the Ambur cluster, which has over 100 tanneries, have disappeared. Due to strong environment norms adhered to by the industry and th efforts of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) for pushing ZLD, the leather industry is today in a better position to handle the water crisis. Otherwise, it would have been a disaster, Ahmed told BusinessLine.

Moving to ZLD was quite expensive with the industry spending nearly ₹1,500 crore and the government half that amount in the form of subsidy. However, the problem is that ZLD plant’s life is five years and needs continuous reinvestment, said Ahmed, who is also Regional Chairman (South) for Council for Leather Exports.

It is a similar situation at the Ranipet cluster. “We never faced any problem thanks to ZLD,” said AR Manikandan, Technical Manager at Bharat Enterprises, one of the first leather manufacturing units in Ranipet. However, the city is facing a huge water problem, he added.

At Pallavaram in suburban Chennai, which has over 100 tanneries, the units are reeling under severe water shortage. However, since the global demand for leather products is down, the units have restricted production and this in turn has led to reduced water consumption, said Mohamed Najeeb, Partner, Noor & Sons.

All functional tanneries are members of the Pallavaram Tanners Industrial Effluent Treatment Company, which is treating the effluents through Common Effluent Treatment Plant, he said.

An official of the Central Leather Research Institute said ZLD has helped in water conservation. However, the high cost and salt content in the recycled water is a challenge.

Published on June 17, 2019

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