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Wastewater Treatment Solutions for the Tannery and Leather Industry

The tannery and leather industry is known for its significant environmental impact, particularly in terms of wastewater generation. The effluent from tanneries contains high levels of organic and inorganic pollutants, including chemicals, dyes, salts, and heavy metals. Effective wastewater treatment solutions are essential to mitigate these impacts and ensure compliance with environmental regulations. Here, we explore the various wastewater treatment solutions tailored specifically for the tannery and leather industry.

Pre-Treatment Processes

Pre-treatment is the first critical step in managing tannery wastewater. It involves the initial removal of large solids and conditioning the wastewater for further treatment. Common pre-treatment processes include:

  • Screening: Mechanical screens are used to filter out large debris and solid particles.

  • Equalization: Balancing the flow and concentration of pollutants by holding wastewater in large tanks, ensuring consistent treatment efficiency.

  • Sedimentation: Settling tanks allow heavier solids to settle at the bottom for later removal.

  • Flotation: Air is injected to float lighter particles to the surface, where they can be skimmed off.


Chemical treatment processes are employed to remove specific contaminants from tannery wastewater. Tannery wastewater contains various chemicals, including chromium, sulfides, and organic compounds. Chemical treatment processes are essential for neutralizing these contaminants. These processes typically involve the addition of chemicals to facilitate pollutant removal through precipitation, coagulation, and flocculation.

  • Coagulation and Flocculation: Adding coagulants (e.g., aluminum sulfate, ferric chloride) and flocculants (e.g., polyacrylamide) to aggregate fine particles into larger flocs, which can then be easily removed through sedimentation or filtration.

  • pH Adjustment: Adjusting the pH of the wastewater to optimize the effectiveness of coagulation and precipitation processes, and to meet discharge standards.

  • Precipitation: Chemicals like lime or ferrous sulfate are added to precipitate heavy metals and other dissolved solids.

  • Oxidation: Oxidizing agents, such as hydrogen peroxide or chlorine, are used to break down sulfides and organic pollutants.

Biological Treatment

Biological treatment processes leverage microorganisms to degrade organic pollutants in tannery wastewater. These processes are highly effective in reducing biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and chemical oxygen demand (COD) levels.

  • Activated Sludge Process: Utilizing aeration tanks where microorganisms decompose organic matter. This process can be enhanced with extended aeration or sequencing batch reactors (SBRs) for improved efficiency.  

  • Anaerobic Digestion: Treating high-strength wastewater in the absence of oxygen, where anaerobic bacteria break down organic pollutants, producing biogas (methane) as a valuable by-product.

  • Trickling Filters: Wastewater is sprayed over a bed of media where biofilms of bacteria degrade organic matter.

Advanced Oxidation Processes (AOPs)

AOPs are employed for the degradation of refractory organic compounds and colour removal from tannery wastewater. These processes generate highly reactive hydroxyl radicals that can effectively break down complex pollutants.

  • Ozonation: Introducing ozone into the wastewater to oxidize organic and inorganic pollutants, reducing toxicity and improving biodegradability.

  • Fenton’s Reagent: Using a combination of hydrogen peroxide and ferrous iron to produce hydroxyl radicals, which oxidize persistent organic pollutants.

Membrane Filtration

Membrane filtration technologies provide a physical barrier for the separation of contaminants from tannery wastewater. These processes are highly effective for removing fine particles, colloids, and dissolved substances.

  • Microfiltration and Ultrafiltration: Utilizing membranes with varying pore sizes to remove suspended solids, bacteria, and macromolecules.

  • Nanofiltration and Reverse Osmosis: Employing tighter membranes to separate dissolved salts, heavy metals, and organic compounds, producing high-quality effluent suitable for reuse or discharge.

Sludge Management

Effective management of sludge generated during wastewater treatment is crucial for minimizing environmental impact and maximizing resource recovery. The treatment of tannery wastewater generates significant amounts of sludge, which must be properly managed:

  • Thickening: Sludge is concentrated to reduce its volume.

  • Dewatering: Reducing the water content of sludge using techniques such as centrifugation, belt filter pressing, or drying beds, resulting in a more manageable and transportable material.

  • Sludge Treatment and Disposal: Treating sludge through stabilization processes (e.g., anaerobic digestion, composting) to reduce pathogens and odours before safe disposal or beneficial reuse in land applications.

Effluent Reuse and Resource Recovery

Implementing strategies for effluent reuse and resource recovery can enhance the sustainability of tannery operations. Modern wastewater treatment solutions focus not only on treating the wastewater but also on recovering valuable resources:

  • Chromium Recovery: Processes are available to recover and reuse chromium from tanning processes, reducing the demand for fresh chromium and minimizing waste.

  • Water Recycling: Treating and reusing treated effluent within the tannery for processes such as washing, rinsing, or cooling, reducing freshwater consumption.

  • Resource Recovery: Recovering valuable materials from wastewater, such as salts, chromium, and organic compounds, which can be reused in the tanning process or sold as by-products.



The tannery and leather industry faces significant challenges in managing its wastewater. However, by implementing a combination of pre-treatment, chemical, biological, and advanced oxidation processes, along with effective sludge management and effluent reuse strategies, tanneries can achieve substantial improvements in wastewater quality. These solutions not only ensure compliance with environmental regulations but also contribute to the overall sustainability and profitability of the industry. To know more about wastewater treatment solutions visit the Delhi Water Expo from 28, 29 & 30 August 2024 at ITPO, Pragati Maidan and meet wastewater experts and get customised solutions and also meet experts for more value-added information.

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