Not only agricultural products contain virtual water – most studies to date have been limited to the study of virtual water in crops – but industrial products and services also contain virtual water. Leather industry is one of such industries that produce such products which have a very high value of virtual water. Similarly it also experiences a large water footprint.
The virtual water from feed, drinking and servicing is integrated over its life span to get the total virtual water content of a live animal, which is 5252 m3/animal. As the live weight of the animal is 0.545 ton, the virtual water content of bovine cattle in Canada is equivalent to 9636 m3/ton of live animal and if an animal ready to be slaughtered is traded alive the total virtual water traded is about 9636 m3/ton. The primary products of the animal are the carcass, offal, semen and raw skin. The virtual water contents of these primary products are calculated as:
• carcass 16100 m3/ton
• offal 9100 m3/ton
• semen 378800 m3/ton
• skin 14100 m3/ton
Leather industry deals with the skin and virtual water of its primary raw material is 14100m3/ton. Water footprint of a leather industry depends on its intake of raw materials and the quantum of its products. Normally leather consumes 30 m3 of water per ton of leather in the process. Out of this 2 m3 is actually consumed and 28 m3 is released into environment as waste water. This waste water contains high amount of toxic chemicals that ultimately adds to the gray water footprint of the industry. For the tanned leather from a bovine cow it costs about 16000 cubic meters of water per ton of leather considering the quantum of gray water footprint and water used for other utilities. The grey WF is calculated as the volume of water that is required to dilute pollutants to such an extent that the quality of the water remains above agreed water quality standards (Chapagain et al., 2006b).
India being a very large and potential producer of leather and leather goods Indian leather industry has a very high water footprint. By exporting leather and leather goods India exports a very high amount of virtual water. This amounts to approximately 6960 Mm3 of virtual water in 2010. The table 1 shows the present leather export of this country in 2010 (source: India Leather Portal).
Table1: India’s export figure on leather and leather goods in 2010
Hides 65 million pieces
Skins 170 million pieces
Leather Footwear 909 million pairs
Leather shoe uppers 100 million pairs
Leather Garments 16 million pieces
Leather Goods 63 million pieces
Industrial Gloves 52 million pairs
Saddlery & Harness 12.50 million pieces
The water requirement of 2010 and projected water requirement in 2025 in leather industry is given in table 2.
Table 2: water requirement of leather industry in India
Water requirement in 2010 65.74 Mm3/ day
Water requirement in 2025 93.08 Mm3/ day
In India leather industry mostly depends on the groundwater resources and a part of the waste water is still being discharged into the environment causing serious environmental and human health hazards. Now time has come that industries including leather should take up some proactive measures to mitigate all adverse environmental situations.