Homeboy Industries program recycling old clothing, sparing landfills

Rob McMillan Image
Thursday, April 18, 2024
Homeboy Threads giving old clothes a new chance
Launched a year ago, Homeboy Threads sorts old clothes, saving them from the landfill by marking them for resale or recycling.

COMMERCE, Calif. (KABC) -- Homeboy Industries is not only finding ways to provide new lives for those who were incarcerated or formerly in gangs. It's also giving second chances to old clothing, using new technology to keep textile waste out of landfills.

Launched last year, Homeboy Threads specializes in sorting through old clothing, often torn or damaged, and figuring out which items can be resold, recycled into new clothing or converted into some other product.

"We got lots of mixed streams of garments that may be customer returns, damaged items, they might be pre-worn, they might be post consumer," said Chris Zwicke, CEO of Homeboy Threads. "And our job is to figure out what the highest use for each of those different items is."

Zwicke says if the item isn't suitable to be turned into a new piece of clothing, sometimes it can sent to a downcycler who will process it into insulation or filling for some other product.

But in order to do that, you have to properly sort and separate the clothing items - for example you don't want to mix polyester items with cotton.

That's where a high-tech machine from Tomra Textiles comes in. The company's Louisa Hayes explains that sensors can identify the type of material using a combination of near-infrared and visible light spectroscopy.

"Near infrared is used to detect the fiber type - is it cotton, is it polyester, is it wool, is it a polycotton blend? And visible light spectroscopy is used to detect the color, so that we can sort by fiber type and color," Hayes said.

If the clothing is eligible for recycling, the machine uses compressed air to shoot the garment over a partition and sort it in the correct container.

Without this technology, many of the clothing items would be destined for the landfill or incineration.

"There's 70,000 tons of textile waste in L.A. alone," said Katalina Connoy with Homeboy Threads. "So just from that statistic, it's important for us to be knowledgeable about what's happening, and to partake in secondhand shopping more, to increase the solutions for this problem."