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Repurposing goes mainstream

Bill Spiegel 05/17/2013 @ 12:38pm I grew up in north-central Kansas, and am the Fourth Generation to maintain and manage our farm; we grow wheat, soybeans and grain sorghum. I'm a 1993 graduate of Kansas State University in ag communications.

At a warehouse in eastern Denver, stacks of surplus materials will quickly jog the mind of innovative farmers and ranchers. A pile of rubber tracks removed from bulldozers are snapped up to be used as nonslip flooring for livestock. Row after row of old swimming pool covers work nicely as livestock shade. Stacks of maple bowling alley lanes make great bench tops in farm shops.

When it comes to being resourceful, farmers have nothing on Damon Carson. The Colorado entrepreneur has built a business on something that farmers have done for generations: finding new uses for old products.

Carson owns repurposedMATERIALS, a business on the outskirts of Denver that enables folks to repurpose outdated, surplus materials into something usable. The concept is a natural to farmers and ranchers, who Carson fully credits as, "the original repurposers."

Farmers and ranchers represent the largest market for repurposedMATERIALS. "Farmers and ranchers are the early adopters," Carson says. "A golf course superintendent, on the other hand, might take a little while to wrap his or her hands around the concept. It takes time, but we're getting there."

"My company, repurposedMATERIALS, started with zero grand vision in 2010," says Carson. "I had a client once tell me that if I could get hold of a used billboard vinyl, they make great drop cloths for painting." Carson found the product, and it worked as well as advertised. A few months later, he stumbled upon some used conveyor belts from the mining industry; a buyer quickly found a new use for that product. 

That Thanksgiving, Carson visited his folks in central Kansas. He drove past mile after mile of old oilfield pipe, which was being used as fence. He noticed railroad ties being used in landscapes, and something clicked.  

"I began to wonder: Are there enough by-products in the waste stream that can be repurposed for something else?" he recalls.

Are there ever. Since the company was incorporated less than two years ago, more than 2 million pounds of materials have been repurposed and kept out of the landfills.   

"We specialize in materials and products that are adaptable, versatile, and generic. A rancher can use a given product one way, a golf course superintendent can use it another way," Carson explains. "We're trying to be that marketplace so that if corporate America doesn't want it, and it is adaptable, versatile and generic, a pig farmer can use it one way, and a lumberjack can use it another."

repurposedMATERIALS has grown from two products in 2010 to more than 30 unique products now. The business has grown organically; online auctions are a new marketing tactic. There is very little advertising; customers are targeted through an email marketing campaign that reaches some 60,000 people. The campaign serves two purposes: It lets customers know what products are available, but also provides a way for customers to provide feedback on how they are using the company's repurposed products. Here are some examples:

  • Repurposing large propane tanks into items like burn pits, or hanging kettles.
  • Repurposing street sweeper brushes as cattle back scratchers.
  • Repurposing swimming pool covers as shades for cattle.
  • Repurposing bowling alley lane as bench tops for shop benches.
  • Repurposing mining tires as feeders for livestock.
  • Repurposing 4x6-foot insulated cargo quilts as liners for stalls or dividers for farm shops.

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More ideas and information can be found at www.repurposedmaterialsinc.com.

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