Interview with Shyju Skariah, the Chair of the ETSA Standards Working Group


In the interview below, Shyju Skariah the Director of Programmes and Projects at TSA and  Chair of the ETSA Standards Working Group, explores the challenges and opportunities in the textile service industry from his unique perspective. He highlights how important standards are to promoting safety and innovation as well as the industry's shift to environmentally friendly practices. Mr. Skariah goes on to address the significance of teamwork in addressing environmental problems like microplastics as well as the necessity of efficient knowledge management and research to uphold standards of quality. The story offers a picture of resiliency, creativity, and teamwork toward sustainable and high-standard textile services through Mr. Skariah's views.

Question: Mr Skariah, as Chair of the ETSA Standards WG, what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the textile service industry today?

When I joined the UK's Textile Services Association (TSA) eight years ago, as a technical services manager, I was astounded at the level of technical expertise and the quality requirements in the sector. Coming from a computer manufacturing background, I suppose I was expecting to flee the world of extensive standards. Thanks to our previous generation of experts, we have benefitted from quality engagement with European and international standards development processes. The biggest opportunity for the textile service sector is to promote our strengths as a circular economy sector by stewarding our current portfolio of standards and by engaging actively in developing new standards. If we can fine-tune our approach to the latest requirements in quality, product design, machinery safety and hygiene, that should help us build on the strong foundations we have laid already.

When it comes to challenges, generally there is a lack of good quality research these days that was once a strong foundation for good standards. That is partly to be blamed on the lack of funding or incentives to conduct good laboratory trials and partly on the lack of knowledge management. The knowledge assets and expertise from the previous generations of standards experts are unfortunately being lost. There are hardly any intentional efforts to manage and transfer our knowledge assets to a newer generation of experts. We have tried to capture this together with Elena and the ETSA team in ETSA's Standardisation Strategy which is in its final draft stages.

ShyjuShkariahQuestion: In the ETSA Standards Working Group, microplastics has been an engaging issue, can you elaborate on the issue of microplastics in the textile service industry?

The main issue of microplastics has risen from the consumer-used products and proportionally, our industry's microplastic release would be insignificant even compared with consumer textile products. A majority of our products are cotton-based with polycotton blend products and some portion of 100% polyester products. The most significant factor to be noted here is that industrially laundered products have much longer life cycles and are used extensively compared to the consumer textile range. The largest shed of fibres (both cellulosic and polymers) from any textile product happens during the first few uses and wash cycles. The ETSA WG members want to ensure that any test methodologies reflect this important factor - the life cycle of any textile product. There is a test method standard that was recently published - ISO 4484 focusing on the impact of newly manufactured textile products. The ETSA WG members have observed that the standard needs more work to be directly applicable to the industrial laundry sector. We are currently working collaboratively with the responsible CEN committee to address this issue in some form or the other. The varying degrees of the definition of microplastics itself coupled with the limitations of technology in determining polymers from cellulosic particles at nano levels don't help what is already a complex issue. However, we are developing an expert group to handle this issue and we are currently inviting people to contribute to this topic if they have the expertise and interest to participate in this exciting work. This is an example of the opportunities I have mentioned earlier where the quality of our products (designed for minimal fibre shed) combined with our best practices in washing, drying and finishing processes may provide solutions for other sectors that may want to use managed reusable services and provide invaluable learnings for other sectors such as retail fashion.

Once we have an effective test methodology to consistently measure the microplastic footprint, that will allow us to make that 'residual' improvement of our products and processes. 

Question: What are some steps the industry is taking to mitigate the release of microplastics from textiles today and more importantly, what will have to be done for the future?

As an industry, we handle and process different portfolios of textile products in different regions. Although the mix of products may change, fundamental product design and supply chain overlap immensely across the world. This places us in a very good position to share best practices and use our value chain to our advantage. We have had a very big focus on water recycling and heat recovery processes for many years which have enabled the industry to innovate in the area of micro-level filtration and that was way before microplastics were in the spotlight. I am aware of laundries that filter and remove the vast majority of fibre shed from their effluents by responsibly handling the residue. There are so many rented textile products designed for use in specialist sectors with minimal fibre shed. This places the laundries in a very strong position coupled with their highly optimised chemical dosing and drying processes.

There have been some recent promising developments in removing microplastics at a 'macro' scale which I hope the water companies and authorities will employ to handle this issue. Then, the laundries and other sectors can manage the effluent quality together with their water companies as they currently do with dissolved solids and chemical residues. The importance of a test methodology that takes into account the lifelong use of the product cannot be overstated.ShyjuTextileServices

Question: In your opinion, how important is it for companies to be actively working on standards and exchanging in ETSA WG, as notwithstanding, these standards are not legally binding?

Two words - Immensely important!! This comes back to your initial question about the opportunities and the challenges. We as an industry have done well in the past to monitor and develop standards that are based on good research and that are technically superior. If we had chosen to stand on the sidelines and watch other sectors lead the standards development efforts, we may not have great standards that we apply daily to our products, machinery and processes such as BS EN 14065, BS EN ISO 10472 or BS EN13569 just to name a few.

Laundries and their suppliers should intentionally set aside resources to get a handle on the issue of standards, working together with ETSA and other national associations. There is a lack of young experts in the world of standards and we are in the process of working closely with our members in the UK to develop the next generation of standards experts. I believe that this is the right thing to do although the standards process can be painfully slow. That's why I agreed to chair this group and I would like to believe that we are making a genuine difference in shaping the future of our industry.

Just to illustrate the importance of this issue, I would like to focus on one example. Performance labelling for domestic laundry machines has been around for a long time and helps consumers make informed decisions on purchasing. However, there is a possibility for a similar kind of requirement to be mandated on industrial laundry machinery. If we do not engage with these issues, every equipment purchase cost can double when you consider the cost of installing and testing our bespoke machines. There are several of our colleagues who do not see many added benefits to a process such as this as laundry equipment is designed and specified to be highly optimised for water and energy use.

Question: As it relates to sustainable practices what are some lessons or practices that are perhaps unique to the UK? And how can the textile service industry benefit from them in the broader European context?

Sustainability is opening up to be that large umbrella that keeps all other workstreams together whether it is health & safety, diversity & inclusion, process optimisation, mental wellbeing or training and development. Most of our workstreams are handled through our Knowledge Networks which are comprised of five steering groups and over a dozen project groups. We have always had a great emphasis on health and safety initiatives which is led by H&S Steering Group. We have been successfully collecting reportable and minor injuries together with near-misses data for the last seven years. This gives us a great level of insight into what is happening in the industry and enables us to initiate relevant projects.

I have been also leading a project on behalf of the UK laundry industry to set out a sustainability roadmap for our members and their value chain. We have partnered with Grain Sustainability in 2021 to engage with our members and conduct a materiality assessment. The project is proving to be a great exercise that will eventually set out for the UK industry a range of goals, targets and KPIs for short, medium and long terms. Any roadmap and recommendations should signpost to tools to measure and improve. We are working with other national associations to recommend an off-the-shelf web-based carbon footprint calculator that is available for use in the laundry industry that allows the laundries to enter their data to generate scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions reports. We hope that as part of the development process, we can fine-tune the platform to incorporate specific emission factors through approved methodologies. We aim to enable the global laundry industry; the multi-national large corporations and the small and medium businesses alike to be able to report their emissions consistently. It's a great privilege to work alongside several national associations and our members to scope and deliver this promising project.

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