Let's Reminisce: The meaning of 'repurposed'
By Jerry Lincecum
Feb 27, 2018
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I have added a new word to my vocabulary: “repurposed.”  Actually, I realize that I was familiar with the concept as far back as my childhood days, but we didn’t have a word for it.  On our farm in the wintertime we fed the cows baled hay and a little bit of cottonseed cake or range cubes, which came in burlap bags.  My dad taught me to save the baling wire and the bags for possible reuse.  I’m sure any reader of this column who grew up on a farm could list many uses for baling wire and recite some choice anecdotes about ways it was “repurposed.”

It was my mother who often insisted, after we had finished our shopping in Mexia, a stop at the Army Surplus store would be worthwhile.  For me it was entertaining just to walk through and imagine ways to use some of the unusual products they had on offer.  Sherman used to have one of these stores, and one summer when I had jury duty for a week I noticed an old-style hammock in army green displayed in their window.  So I spent my “jury pay” on that “repurposed” item.

The word “repurposed” was brought to my attention recently when unexpectedly I began receiving a weekly email headlined “Repurposed Materials,” with this definition of the term: “byproducts and waste that have value ‘as is’ to a second, unrelated industry.”  Apparently someone with access to my email address sold it to this company, and just like the Mexia Army Surplus store, it amuses me to examine their unusual offerings.

For instance, here is a bit of “repurposed history”: In Italy after World War II many enterprising olive farmers found a way to use old parachutes left behind by Allied soldiers. With a hole in the middle the parachutes worked ideally to make a skirt under the trees (think Christmas tree skirt), to collect all the olives that were dropped as they were picked. While the WWII parachutes have long ago vanished, they were such a hit that even now olive growers refer to their tree skirts as parachutes.

Here’s a “before and after” example of something this company repurposed. BEFORE: “We got in a truckload of 55 steel drums from a company in Houston that very much misrepresented the quality. They were really beat up and in terrible condition, worthless we thought. They have just been sitting in the corner of our Atlanta warehouse. AFTER: “A lady came in yesterday to buy 50 of the worst beat-up barrels we had. They are using them for a TV show based on war surroundings.  The barrels help make it look really damaged.

Here’s another example: BEFORE: “These rolls of rubber were involved in a truck accident on the way to a factory where they were going to be die cut into diaphragms for truck air brakes. The customer rejected the whole load.” AFTER: "My sandal company where we make minimalist barefoot sandals can use this material to die cut a super thin pair that will be both ecofriendly and economical." - Mike in California

This repurposing company also asks those who receive their newsletter for suggestions on how to use some unusual items it has acquired:  “We just got in a bunch of used sidewall conveyor belting. It is regular rubber conveyor belting but it has a standing sidewall on each side.  How can this sidewall conveyor belting be ‘repurposed’? Please submit ideas.”

Three ideas were shown: 1. “If it was used as walking paths through a garden or green areas the side walls would be decorative.”  2. “Split belt down the middle and semi-cover flat part of belt in mulch, leaving sidewall exposed to form landscape edging.” 3. “Depending on the width of the belting and depth of the sidewalls, it could easily be used as a feed bunk for smaller cattle.”

There are at least two reasons why I haven’t “unsubscribed” to this weekly piece of junk mail.  First, when I clicked on “unsubscribe” they asked me for too much information; I didn’t trust it.  Second, I find their weekly newsletter somewhat intriguing.  If you’d like to get on their list, let me know.

Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches older adults to write their autobiographies and family histories.  Email him at