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International Team Addresses Leather Waste Problem in Vietnam

International Team Addresses Leather Waste Problem in Vietnam

With support from US-AEP, an international team of scientists and engineers from Texas Tech University and Tomas Bata University in the Czech Republic developed a recycling technology to address a growing problem in Vietnam with scrap leather waste generated by the athletic footwear industry. As one of the largest manufacturers of athletic shoes in the world, Vietnam generates several tons of shoe leather waste every day. Over 400,000 people are employed by footwear manufacturers, with this number expected to rise significantly as the industry expands.

Toxic chemicals, namely Chromium-6, present in scrap leather waste can potentially leach into groundwater supplies over time. The innovative technology provides a means for industry members to convert white scrap leather into an environmentally friendly fertilizer and an inert sludge that can be used for other industrial applications. Approximately 90% of white athletic leather scraps are convertible using this procedure. In February 2003, the scientists shared the technology with over 80 colleagues in the shoe and leather industries at a laboratory demonstration hosted by Nike Vietnam at the Polytechnic University in Ho Chi Minh City. Additional support through US-AEP's Civil Society Partnership Program, implemented by the Asia Foundation, provided technical assistance to the Vietnam Leather Industry Association to promote cleaner production in leather tanneries in Vietnam.

Nike Corporation, which was introduced to the partnership by US-AEP, is evaluating the market potential of scaling-up this industrial waste management process to its manufacturing operations facilities in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and China. In 2004, US-AEP activities in Vietnam will continue to promote improved environmental conditions by emphasizing voluntary environmental stewardship. Limited support to Nike's efforts to institutionalize this technology at its facilities across Asia will be provided.

"With limited support from US-AEP and Nike Vietnam, this innovative technology has the potential to reduce tons of harmful waste and preserve precious water resources. The implications of this recycling initiative are huge, reaching far beyond Vietnam." Nathan Sage, Vietnam Country Program Manager, United States-Asia Environmental Partnership

The project culminated in a laboratory demonstration in which the principal investigators presented their findings to over 80 colleagues in the shoe and leather industries in Ho Chi Minh City. Pictured here, Dr. Dennis Shelly of Texas Tech University's Leather Research Institute explains the technology to students from Ho Chi Minh City University at the demonstration.

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