Why should an investment recovery professional be interested in the operations of an Ohio River tugboat operator, a turkey farmer in Arkansas, a water well driller in Montana or a thoroughbred horse stable in Kentucky? Any of these industries, or the thousands of others in America, might find that one of your organization’s by-products solves a problem they’re willing to pay for. How, you might ask? Through “repurposing.” A quick, offbeat example of repurposing an asset would be taking a worn-out street sweeper brush from a city street department and erecting it in a pasture to be used as a back scratcher for livestock. We kid you not! Street sweeper brushes from large cities across America are being resold to cattle ranches and dairies. They even sold a pair of sweeper brushes to the Bronx Zoo last spring for the rhinoceros pen! Repurposing is defined within the industrial realm as “by-products and waste that have value ‘as is’ to a second, unrelated industry.” So, how, do you get industries to look upon the exact same thing in two very different ways? According to Damon Carson, president of Denver-based repurposedMATERIALS, “We focus on by-products and waste that are very generic or versatile.” “After all, an HVAC unit will always be an HVAC unit, a motor a motor, a fork lift a fork lift, etc. Whereas a spool of steel cable could solve a whole lot of different problems or large square footages of materials such as a liner or a cover can often be beneficially reused in other industries.” Manufacturing companies occasionally have a one-time large volume or ongoing supply of something that can’t really be recycled. It may have some potential use or value— albeit not obvious—so no one wants to throw the stuff away. But warehousing is costly. Hence, repurposing. The oil and gas industry is a great example of an industry that chooses to reuse instead of recycle. Obviously, any drill pipe that no longer meets spec could easily be sold to a scrap metal recycler. Instead, most all reject drill pipe is reused in structural applications such as building fences, out buildings, etc. Levi Strauss was failing to find a recycling option for a very large quantity of big plastic containers. In the next few years this unrecyclable plastic would mean sending multiple millions of pounds to the landfill. Obviously, Levi Strauss, like a growing number of corporations, is trying to do everything it can to find some kind of option for these containers. Like in the case of Levi’s bins, many of these generic and versatile things often fall into the hard-to-recycle category. But repurposedMATERIALS doesn’t just deal with hard-to-recycle items. In fact, it often is quite willing to pay scrap prices for a by-product if it has value “as is.” Reuse is higher on the waste hierarchy than recycling. Your company’s carbon footprint can be greatly reduced by choosing a reuse avenue rather than the energy-hogging process of chipping, grinding, shredding and melting that is the ugly reality of recycling. Not everything can be repurposed. Whether a by-product falls into the hard-torecycle category or one where recycling is an option, not all by-products are candidates for repurposing. Just because a by-product has potential for repurposing doesn’t necessarily mean there is an affordable means to finding a viable new market for any or all of a given waste stream. Repurposing is not likely the answer to all of a company’s zero-waste goals. But in many cases, repurposing will possibly offer a solution when there is not a recycling option or reuse market. (Note the very important difference between reuse and repurpose). In these cases, repurposing may be the only option for keeping a given waste stream out of the landfill. LANDFILL DIVERSION VS. COST AVOIDANCE While investment recovery and sustainability departments are often separate, they are really two sides of the same coin. It is interesting to hear the different language used for the same thing when it comes to environmental stewardship and not throwing things away. Sustainability people call it “landfill diversion” efforts. Investment recovery people usually refer to it as “cost avoidance” measures. Repurposing is bipartisan, if you will, in that keeping it out of the landfill, while deriving value out of the waste, very much appeals to both divisions. Repurposing takes time. MillerCoors offers a great example of an evolutionary process where a by-product goes from being a throw-away item the sustainability police are concerned about to being something sold through their Asset Recovery division. The company generates a few hundred 6’ x 10’ filter cloths per month in the beer brewing process. Somewhere along the way, a landscaper got some of these filter cloths and began using them as a lawn tarp. (A lawn tarp is simply a piece of material landscapers use to spread on the ground and throw limbs and debris on as they’re pruning the bushes and shrubs.) These tough, durable filter cloths proved to be excellent for that use. At first, MillerCoors was just giving these cloths away for free. They were happy to not just be throwing them away. As word spread amongst landscapers, demand slowly began to build. The warehouseman finally started to charge a few bucks each for the cloths. As demand continued to exceed supply, they kept bumping up the price. This item was eventually turned over to the Investment Recovery department. So repurposing can help create value where no previous value for an asset existed. But it can take a while to build enough demand for a given by-product. The repurposing of the filter cloth of MillerCoors took years to go from something that was being thrown away to something where there was actually enough demand that they could charge for. Outdoor advertising is another industry that illustrates this evolution well. For decades, they would give away all their retired large print billboard vinyls that hung along the highways. They were just happy to keep them out of the dumpsters. Over the years, though, resourceful people realized these heavy, waterproof vinyls made great tarps for covering things like RVs, boats and haystacks. Now, with demand as it is it is rare to find a billboard company that doesn’t sell its old billboard vinyls. Broaden your thinking. So, why does the original industry declare an asset obsolete or of no value? The reasons are probably quite familiar, but let’s recite a few to make a point as to some of the reasons they may have value in their second life. Oftentimes, assets are retired from service in the original industry long before the end of their functional life. The reasons can be many for this obsolesce in their original industry: regulatory rules—OSHA, FAA, DOT, liability concerns, plant closures, etc. In the case of the advertising billboard they were retired simply because the ad campaign was over—not because the vinyl material was worn out. Broaden your thinking. Just because an asset has served its useful life for the reason you used it doesn’t mean it couldn’t get years of extended life if it could be repurposed in another industry. Decommissioned fire hose is illustrative of the primary industry obsolesce scenario. The decommissioned hose is an asset that has been pressure tested and has been deemed unsafe to work at the high PSI requirements involved in firefighting where lives and property are at stake. One option would be to reuse these hoses in lowpressure fluid conveyance applications. But, thinking beyond “hoses,” these surplus assets could also be repurposed in applications where the durable jacket material, not their ability to continue to hold fluid, is of prime importance. They have ongoing value as boat dock bumpers or cutting them into desired lengths to be used as protective sleeves for chains, cables, slings, cords, wires, etc. SUMMARY. By looking to divert surplus assets, byproducts, or waste from the landfill—given enough exposure and successful repurposing efforts—these same assets, byproducts, or waste…once destined for the dumpster…could actually be monetized if repurposed AS IS in another industry. So, whether your organization is seeking additional avenues in reaching its zerowaste goals, or you’re looking for a niche industry that could utilize your hard-torecycle assets in hopes of one day monetizing that waste stream, repurposing might be your best option. There just may be a septic tank installer in Maine, an airport manager in California or a civil engineering contractor in Texas who could repurpose your obsolete asset. repurposedMATERIALS is a new member of the Investment Recovery Association, but it has already done transactions with several member companies. That is how it found out about the association and why it decided to join. REPURPOSING: By-products and waste that have value “as is” to a second, unrelated industry. Large excavator tires are repurposed as water stations on a cattle ranch. –Damon Carson, Founder, repurposedMATERIALS, 303.321.1471 damon@repurposedMATERIALS.com