Consider the giant vinyl billboard advertisement. It’s created for some fleeting movie or fast food promotion and then thrown away. But that’s not just an consumerism bummer; it’s also a business opportunity.
Colorado resident Damon Carson bought 20 old vinyl billboards for $140 when an acquaintance suggested they could be used as drop cloths for painting. With durable, waterproof vinyl to spare, he put out some feelers to see if there was a market for the stuff. And there was. “I then quickly had to start bringing them in from around the nation to keep up with demand,” he says.
When one of his billboard customers asked about rubber products, and Carson started repurposing old conveyor belt material, he had his second product line and a new company, Repurposed Materials.
Now about a year old, Denver-based Repurposed Materials is giving new life to a wide variety of industrial by-products. Used wine barrels are resold as planters. Strips of rubber from old conveyor belts are resold as truck bed lining. Old street sweeper brushes are resold as back scratchers for livestock.
The environmental benefits of Carson’s business are obvious. Every year, 7.6 billion tons of nonhazardous industrial trash ends up in landfills. Each billboard or wine barrel Carson repurposes is another that doesn’t get tossed.
It also makes economic sense for everyone involved, however. For his customers, many of whom are farmers, buying something repurposed is often much less expensive. Carson sells used street sweeper brushes, for example, for about $100; a new livestock brush could cost as much as $1,500. And the companies that give their old equipment to Repurposed Materials save money on landfill fees.
Repurposing isn’t new, of course, but Carson is doing it on a larger scale than your average Etsy craftsman. He estimates the company has kept 100 tons of potential waste out of landfills so far. And in its first year, Repurposed Materials has generated around $150,000 in revenue. He already has an agreement with the city of Denver and he’s “within a few weeks of working with cities like Chicago, St. Louis, and Philadelphia on some of their waste streams.” Carson says MillerCoors and Whole Foods may also soon sign up.
Is the success due to burgeoning ecological awareness or the simple cost savings? “Our buyers, fortunately, think it makes sense for both reasons.”