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Zero-waste plan for tanneries

Vani Doraisamy

CHENNAI: With the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) putting together technology for integrated waste treatment systems in tanneries, the leather industry in Tamil Nadu is all set to become the first in the world to move towards a zero-waste concept.

A project proposal, submitted by the Department of Environmental Technology, CLRI to the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes and the Central Pollution Control Board, envisages setting up secure landfills in combination with central effluent treatment plants (CETPs) to ensure that no discharge from the sludge enters the environment. The proposal has been agreed to in principle and is likely to be implemented by the end of the year, said Dr. S. Rajamani, head, DoET.

According to the proposal, nine secure landfills will be set up in Pallavaram, Madhavaram, Ranipet, Melvisharam, Ambur, Vaniyambadi, Perundurai, Dindigul and Tiruchi. Each landfill will be set up at a cost of Rs. 2 to 4 crores, adjacent to the existing CETPs.

Complementary

The CETPs and the landfills would complement each other. As tannery sludge is of a homogenous nature, there would be no need for two-layered landfills. The leachate from the landfill would be directed to the CETPs. The CLRI is also looking at the possibility of recovering water from the sludge to ensure minimisation of waste. Land would be acquired near the CETPs for situating the landfills.

The CETP-landfill combination, if it comes through, would be the latest in a series of measures the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has been pushing through to ensure tannery wastes get treated at the source itself. With Tamil Nadu having the largest cluster of tanneries and leather processing units in the country — of 2,500 tanneries in the country, nearly 900 are in the State — the Board has been waging a battle with the industry. Tannery effluents, containing high concentrations of chrome, chlorides and sulphides and other total dissolved solids, are known to have the worst possible impact on the environment, especially water bodies, apart from causing soil salinity.

No new licences have been issued for tanneries in the State after 1996, when the Supreme Court ordered the closure of 162 tanneries in Vellore in a case filed by the Vellore Citizens' Forum. An assessment by the Loss of Ecology Authority showed ecological damage worth Rs. 30 crores in Pallavaram, Vellore, Vaniyambadi and Dindigul. Subsequently, nearly 400 tanneries in various parts of the State were shut down. At present, most of the leather industry in the State subscribes to CETPs.

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