Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Resolving to repurpose

From page C4 | January 04, 2013 | Leave Comment

This time of year I always feel a little sick to my stomach, and not just because of those midnight romps at the dessert buffet with the bottomless glass of Prosecco. (Do they make a combo antacid headache tablet?)

I suffer from that other brand of post-holiday consumption bloat. Even though I— like most consumers, judging from the season’s sorry retail numbers — have cut waaaay back on gift buying, I feel icky as I fill my recycle bin with ransacked shipping and gift boxes.

The task makes me vow for the thirteen-thousandth time that, starting this nanosecond, I am going to buy even smarter, waste even less and re-use more.

Only this year, I found inspiration from a company whose business it is to do exactly that.

Damon Carson, owner of RepurposedMaterials in Denver, is the type of guy who drives down the road, sees a billboard and rather than dismiss it as another splotch on the landscape, thinks: “That perfectly good billboard will one day be torn down, and all that useful billboard vinyl will get chucked in a landfill.”

Why? When the UV-protected, industrial-strength, waterproof  barrier could enjoy a new incarnation as — and here is where minds like his take off — a super-sized tarp; a pool or pond liner; a cover for a hay stack, wood pile or boat; protection for a baseball field; a Slip ‘n Slide.

Thinking up new uses for old things doesn’t come naturally to me. I mean, if I need a cheese grater I tend to ask myself: “Where can I buy a cheese grater?” When really, I don’t need to look any further than my elbows.

“The key to successful repurposing,” Carson says, “is finding materials that are generic and versatile.”

He dismisses, for instance, old ceiling fans, refrigerators or toilets. Though all can be reused, they will function in their second life as they did in their first. Repurposing means using retired items in totally new ways.

“Like when you turn an old fire hose into a boat-dock bumper,” I say, as I surf his website,, riveted by reuse.

“Garbage management is who I am,” said Carson.

This is actually Carson’s second foray into the waste stream of America. Before launching RepurposedMaterials in 2010, he owned a traditional trash pick-up company, which he sold.

Then, an off-hand remark from a painter working at Carson’s home (“Hey, if you ever get an old billboard vinyl they make great drop cloths.”) turned the entrepreneurial light on in Carson’s cranium.

Sales in 2012 were double those of 2011. Clients include farmers, ranchers, landscapers and DIYers.

“So you take Dumpster diving to the next level,” I say.

“Our slogan is ‘Got byproducts?’” he says. “Every day I get inquiries from industries asking if I can help them keep their waste out of the landfill.”

The day we spoke, he had just sold 3,000 used burlap sacks to a crab fisherman who wanted to soak them and cover his crabs while he fished.

If you, too, want to resolve to use more old stuff in new ways in 2013, note some of the clever ways Carson’s company helps customers repurpose:

  • Conveyor belt rubber.  Stronger than other rubber materials of the same thickness, conveyor belting is made to carry tons of sharp rocks and ore over thousands of feet in mines. Belt rubber is rip, tear and impact resistant. (Do I see a line of children’s clothes on the horizon?) Repurposed, the rubber converts to great mats for dog kennels, horse and cow stalls, trailers and garage floors. It can line truck beds, be cut into mud flaps or doggy doors, or go under exercise equipment. The trim ends of conveyor belts make good landscape edging.
  • Snow fence wood. Based on the ones I’ve seen, I would have thought that snow fence wood was already on its last of nine lives. But no. The wood can be reused in reclaimed wood flooring, barn siding, corral fencing, decking and bridges. Its weathered patina, tan lines and bolt holes add to its rough-sawn character. You can buy the salvaged snow fence lumber by the bunk. A bunk contains 49 weathered boards (why 49?) and costs $245.
  • Swimming pool covers.  Designed to keep people from falling in, many pool covers are so sturdy a cow can walk across them, so manufacturers boast. Besides holding up to bovines and most breeds of party guests, these breathable covers take sun, hail, rain, wind and most of Mother Nature’s wrath. Once their near indestructibleness does wear down, they can shade a dog run; screen a greenhouse, construction project or tennis court; or cover a pond or compost pile.
  • Roof pavers. Grab these concrete pavers from demolition sites. The paver tops are flat and the bottoms grated to allow drainage. The slanted edges let pavers lock onto one another. The 12-inch-square pavers — about $1 each — can enjoy a second life as a garden path or patio.
  • Street sweeper brushes. From the who-would-have-thought department comes the lowly street sweeper brush turned … wait for it … backscratcher for your livestock. The combination of polypropylene bristles surrounding a steel core makes these 5-foot-long tube brooms the perfect scratching post for horses, cows, goats, pigs and angsty teenagers. No barn or pasture should be without one.

If all that doesn’t get your brain bristles turning and churning new uses for old stuff in 2013 I can’t help you.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through


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