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The Green Life: An Afterlife for Industrial Objects

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October 14, 2011

An Afterlife for Industrial Objects

Street - feller 1LGAn Arizona mining company learned of Damon Carson 10 days ago. Now he’s above their copper vein in the foothills east of Phoenix. The company clothes their mining tires in steel chains weighing 7,000 pounds or more. They’ve called on Carson because he has an eye and a platform for, as he puts it, “creative reuse of industrial materials.” Does this tire armor have a future that’s not in a landfill?

It’s a question more companies are putting to Carson and, by extension, to his database of 15,000 customers with potential brainstorming power. He owns Repurposed Materials, Inc., which specializes in turning industrial equipment into other industrial equipment. A snow-plow edge becomes a dock bumper, a billboard becomes a hay tarp, a fire hose becomes a vine for zoo monkeys. “These items can’t be recycled,” says Carson. “We’re trying to find ways to divert them from the landfill. It makes sense both economically and environmentally.”

Carson’s most successful objects are cheaper, and often more effective, than industry equivalents. A brush from a street sweeper sells for around $100 to farmers whose livestock use it as a back scratcher (a stationary cattlebrush can cost up to $1,500). A bisected mining tire acts as a stock tank that’s stronger than its metal counterparts, which are prone to damage from combat between bulls.

In the coming weeks, Carson is slated to speak at recycling symposiums in Ohio and New Jersey, and to tour the Coors factory. “Maybe the forest industry wants something from here,” he muses. “It’s exploratory.”

With hobbyists and artists, repurposing has been in vogue for quite some time. Do-it-yourself web articles (and magazine spots) abound.

On the quainter side of the movement, Toronto carpenters Joseph and Lars Dressler are using salvaged materials to build rustic, minimalist furniture. In their world, tables pay homage to the gnarled quality of tree parts, and the essence of couches lies in the joinery of their wooden skeletons. To ensure that pieces don’t go to waste when a chaise goes out of style, the brothers design almost everything with disassembly in mind.

The spectrum of applications is broad, but the philosophy common and clear: Reuse is not a struggle. It's an opportunity. As the Dresslers say: “Wasting material is taboo to us and we believe that with a little creative thinking, much of our potential waste can be repurposed into useful and beautiful objects.” 

-- Jake Abrahamson / photo courtesy Repurposed Materials, Inc.

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