New Ways to Process Hides into Leather
November 27, 1998
New, environmentally friendly ways to turn cattle hides into leather while
ensuring better quality products have been developed by
Agricultural Research Service
Cattle hides are the most valuable co-product from the meat packing
industry. The U.S. produces about 35 million hides each year. Exported hides
bring more than $1 billion in foreign trade; those tanned in the U.S. are worth
about $4 billion in finished leather.
For ages, processors have used salt to preserve hides because it draws out
water. But each salt-cured hide produces a gallon of salt waste water, posing a
disposal problem. Adding salt water to soil lowers its fertility.
At ARS Eastern Regional Research
Center in Wyndmoor, Pa., biochemist David G. Bailey identified three
solutions to the salt problem: potassium chloride, electron beam irradiation
and gamma irradiation. Each is an effective, viable alternative to curing hides
with salt. Industry doesnt use these methods, but Baileys research
is available if salt becomes a less acceptable preservative.
Using potassium chloride, or potash, to tan hides would benefit the
environment because it is a plant nutrient. Potash is a little more expensive
than salt, however, and would add about $2 to the cost of curing each hide.
Both electron beam irradiation and gamma irradiation protect hides from
bacteria. In electron beam irradiation, cathode ray tubes similar to those in a
TV set zap hides with energy beams of 3 to 10 million volts. Gamma rays are
produced by a cobalt source at the bottom of a deep pool of water. Both methods
are used worldwide on many products such as bandages and other soft medical
ARS, USDAs chief research agency,
features a story on hide processing in the November
magazine. The story is on the World Wide Web at:
Scientific contact: David G. Bailey,
Hides, Lipids, and Wool Research
Unit, ARS Eastern Regional Research
Center, Wyndmoor, Pa., phone (215) 233-6486, fax (215) 233-6795,