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2014 John Arthur Wilson Memorial Lecturer -- Jakov Buljan

The 55th John Arthur Wilson Memorial Lecture will be presented at the Annual Meeting by Jakov Buljan at 8:00 am on Thursday, June 19.

The title of his presentation is "Some Considerations about International Technical Cooperation in the Tanning Sector."


The abstract for Mr. Buljan's presentation is as follows: 

Growth rates of the past and projections for the future point towards substantial livestock to support a strong tanning sector as well as towards an increasing gap between the raw hides and skins available and the assumed growing needs of the human population. The amount of pollution generated by the tanning industry is also significant. Taking into account the salt for curing, chemicals for processing and wastewater treatment, the ratio of chemicals used to fresh hide/skin weight is approx. 1:1. Furthermore, the major part of the chemicals added is actually not retained in leather; based on the present global input of approx. 10 million tons w.s. hide and skins weight the amount of process chemicals discharged into is of the order of some 7.0 million tons/year. Some 360 million m3of wastewater discharged/year contain about 1.8 million tons of COD, 1.2 million tons of Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen (TKN), 0.5 million tons of Cr, and, worst of all, more than 4.5 million tons of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS).

Relocation of the substantial part of the tanning and downstream industry from North to South (the big shift) in recent decades also meant relocation of pollution for which developing countries were quite unprepared. Many of them have turned to United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) for help. UNIDO is a specialized agency from the UN family, with headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Its mandate is to promote sustainable industrial development as an important driver of economic growth and thus contribute towards eradication of poverty. Sustainable development also incorporates the social and industry-related environmental and energy challenges. As of 1 January 2014, the Organization had 171 Member States and employed close to 700 staff at Headquarters and other established offices. UNIDO’s regular budget, covering staff and operating costs, is funded by contributions from its Member States assessed along the principles of the UN system, the largest contributor being Japan. Programs and projects are mainly funded through voluntary contributions from donor countries and institutions (the largest contributor is the EU), as well as from multilateral funds. External inputs are always are complemented by substantial local financing. Experience has shown that due to its inherent features multilateral cooperation is often more efficient and preferred over bilateral.

Some typical projects developed and implemented by UNIDO Leather & Leather Products Unit tackling pollution prevention, wastewater treatment, finishing, occupational safety and health, gender equality, ecolabelling etc. In the last 30 years, UNIDO was to some extent involved in tackling up to 20 % of all tannery effluents generated in developing countries; its particular experience is in dealing with Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) servicing old or new tannery clusters. It is recognized that coagulation and flocculation as well as sludge conditioning before dewatering, crucial steps in wastewater treatment as performed today, would be impossible without the pioneering work on colloids by JA Wilson.

Training tailored to the specific needs of recipients is an essential part of technology transfer. Modern means of communications offer fundamentally new possibilities of learning, especially for the young, “click & slide” generations. Five modules of the Animated Visual Training Tool (AVTT), supplementing the booklet Introduction to the treatment of tannery effluents have been made available for wider public use.

A difficulty encountered in many projects was the (mis)perception that advanced cleaner technologies can limit end-of-pipe treatment to some simple and cheap procedures.

A very special feature of UNIDO activities is its Leather and Leather Products Industry Panel, a global forum comprising some 20 reputable specialists from all walks of trade. The Panel’s primary function is to review and suggest the relevant topics and priority issues to be addressed by UNIDO TA.  The latest paper produced for the Panel was the Carbon Footprint study for the leather industry, Shanghai 2012. UNIDO is traditionally a significant contributor to IULTCS/IUE documents and reference source for EU Best Available Technology (BREF) norms.

Nowadays UNIDO assistance to the tanning industry remains that of a globally present catalyst focused on environmental issues but increasingly acting in the eWorld.

The most pressing challenges confronted by the industry and the future of leather as material (e.g. durability vs. fashion changes/short-termism/consumerism) are also briefly discussed.

Relocation of capacities in different directions in a globally free trade is a continuous process requiring high flexibility; the transfer North to South in both tanning and leather products is already being replaced by South-to-South movement. In any case, pollution prevention and treatment of waste remain the key ingredients of international technology transfer; eventually, it also helps leveling the competition ground. Ultimately, cooperation is much more than solidarity: development with all its spin off benefits (employment, education, better living standards, more balanced population growth etc.) is the conditio sine qua non for ensuring global stability.