Generic Fashion - Ecology Question 21

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Question

Does the brand (company) have a clear and effective policy to minimize environmental pollution of chromium and other harmful substances from leather tanning processes, e.g. by waste water treatment or by vegetable tanning?

NL: Heeft het merk een effectief beleid voor het looien van leer, om milieuverontreiniging door chroom en andere schadelijke chemicaliën te beperken, bijvoorbeeld door waterzuivering of vegetaal looien?

DE: Setzt der Markenhersteller Maßnahmen um, um Umwelt- und Gesundheitsschäden durch den Gebrauch von Chrom und anderen umwelt- und gesundheitsschädlichen Substanzen beim Gerben von Leder zu vermeiden?

Reference

Tanning is the process of treating skins of animals to produce leather, which is more durable and less susceptible to decomposition. Chromium is the most commonly used agent in leather tanning processes. The chrome tanning process is relatively cheap and quick and gives leather the required characteristics. There are however several problems related to chromium tanning. Here it should first be noted that chromium is a transition metal that can exist in different oxidation states each with distinctive properties and toxicity:
1. Trivalent chromium (Cr III) occurs naturally in the environment. Chromium III is considered safe to use and is non-hazardous [1]. It is used in the leather industry for tanning.
2. Hexavalent chromium (Cr VI) is the hazardous, carcinogen form. It can be formed when trivalent chromium is oxidised. This usually occurs in the presence of oxygen combined with other factors, such as extremes in pH or temperature [2].

Although the leather tanning agent Chromium III is considered safe, the use for leather is still not desirable. Chromium III as used in tanning process could oxidise to Chromium VI during or after production, e.g. due to uncontrolled temperatures and pH levels. This may pollute the local environment, cause harm to the leather workers, or can end up in footwear. Further, chromium tanned leather contains a considerable chromium content. Chromium is persistent: it cannot be broken down and will always be present in some form within the environment. Incineration of old shoes can again cause Cr III to oxidise into Cr VI. Incineration, composting and gasification will not eliminate chromium; this prevents ecological recycling of materials [3].
Additionally, some people are allergic to Chromium III. This is a reason for Volvo to ban chromium tanned leather from their cars. There are also national legislation prohibiting chromium in baby and children leather products [4].

Ranking Guidelines


Brands are given the 'Yes' to this question when at least 50% of the used leather is tanned processed with alternatives / (partial) solutions - instead of Chromium - such as:

• Vegetable tanning: here natural materials are used, such as bark and leaves of plants. The environmental advantage of vegetable tanning is that no chromium is used and does not end up in leather and consequently, the environment.

Note: though promising, the vegetable tanning process generally takes more time and may consume considerable more energy and water. Overall environmental benefits of vegetable tanning versus chromium tanning is therefore debated, a reason for Timberland, effective by May 2011, not to prioritize this material as environmentally friendly.

• Tanning processes using other agents than chromium (see e.g. options indicated here: [5], [6].


Also, Brands are given the 'Yes' if:

• Waste water treatment and strictly controlled tanning processes (to be specified through concrete reporting which also must cover overall results realized) - applicable for the entire leather volume used - in order to prevent Chromium III to oxidize into Chromium VI and to limit the chromium released into the environment through waste water effluent.

IMPORTANT: this solution only applies to the production stages, while chromium will still be in the leather and may cause problems in the disposal stage (incineration).


Also, Brands are given the 'Yes' if:

• At least 90% of the leather comes from at least LWG Silver certified tanneries, or at least 90% from tanneries with a comparable certification or comparable environmental performances (please inform verifier if identified).

Eligible standards:

- Leather Working Group (LWG): One of the leading initiatives in environmentally responsible tanning is the rating system by LWG where tanneries are awarded a Bronze, Silver or Gold rating.


Good practice examples:

- PUMA communicates that 93% of all leather used in 2015 was sourced from tanneries rated gold / silver by the Leather Working Group (LWG) (see link, page 61).

- Timberland communicates that 93,7% of all leather used in Q3 2017 was sourced from tanneries rated gold / silver by the Leather Working Group (LWG) (see link, page 3).

Answering guidelines

Yes:
• [Brand] reports that the majority of the used leather is tanned without the use of chromium but with the use of [vegetable / other technology*] instead.

• [Brand] reports that [..%] of the used leather is tanned without the use of chromium but with the use of [vegetable / other technology*] instead.

• [Brand] reports that [..%] of the used leather comes from tanneries with at least a [silver or gold certification according to the Leather Working Group].

• [Brand] reports that [..%] of the used leather comes from tanneries with clear environmental performances that include waste water treatment and effluent values [..].

• [Brand] does not make use of leather for its products at all.

No:
• [Brand] reports that less than 50% of the used leather comes from tanneries with at least a [silver or gold certification according to the Leather Working Group].

• [Brand] reports that less than 50% of the used leather is tanned without the use of chromium but with the use of [vegetable / other technology*] instead.

• [Brand] reports that only [..%] of the used leather comes from tanneries with at least a [silver or gold certification according to the Leather Working Group].

• [Brand] reports that only [..%] of the used leather is tanned without the use of chromium but with the use of [vegetable / other technology*] instead.

• [Brand] explicitly reports about not having a policy to limit chromium and other harmful substances pollution caused by leather tanning processes, for the reason that [..].

?:
• [Brand] does not openly communicate a policy to limit chromium and other harmful substances pollution caused by leather tanning processes.

• [Brand] reports a policy to limit the environmental pollution caused by Chromium, such as [..], but the brand does not describe clear results of its measures implemented. The brand is therefore not clear about the scale and impact of this policy.

• [Brand] collaborates with [bluesign®, ...*] to implement environmental protection measures throughout its production chain. However, [Brand] does not clearly describe results of its measures to limit the use or pollution of chromium. The brand is therefore not clear about the scale and impact of this policy.

• [Brand] reports that [..%] of the used leather from [Asian / other region*] leather suppliers comes from tanneries with at least a [silver or gold certification according to the Leather Working Group (LWG)]. However, [Brand] does not clearly report whether supplies from other world regions meet at least LWG silver certification as well.

• [Brand] reports that [..%] of [Brand] used leather in [Year] came from bronze, silver and gold certified producers according to the Leather Working Group (LWG). However, [Brand] does not clearly specify the share of silver and gold certified supplies.

• [Brand] collaborates with [bluesign®, ...*] and reports that [..%] of the used leather from [Asian / other region*] leather suppliers comes from tanneries with at least a [silver or gold certification according to the Leather Working Group (LWG)]. However, [Brand] does not clearly report whether supplies from other world regions meet at least [LWG silver certification and / or bluesign®*] standards as well.

-* You can pick the topic that applies to 'your' brand.

Note: when linking to a downloadable source document, please refer to the page(s) where to find the respective information with: (see link, page [..]).

Optional, but only for ? Answers, feel free to write at the end of a remark: Sustainability information should be easily accessible for consumers to make responsible choices.