The Purpose of Repurposing

By Sheri Warren Sankner - Z’scoop

Everyone has heard of the 3 R’s of the environment (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) but what about the fourth R, Repurpose? It’s a topic that continues to trend and gain popularity.

Repurposing is not new. Cavemen used rocks for seats. The pilgrims crafted their first tableware and utensils from leather, wood, and seashells. In the 1930s, when economic times were hard, families repurposed everything until it fell apart. Old feed sacks were sewn into dresses, while old doors became kitchen tables. Even Grandpa made a tree swing from an old tire.

Fortunately, repurposing has found new life and renewed spirit with a new diverse audience of eco-warriors, maker-mentality millennials, home flippers and fixer-uppers, new crafters/hobbyists, and die-hard DIYers. Repurpose with a purpose even has its own Facebook page. Pinterest and Instagram are brimming with project postings. Magazines, websites, and TV shows on the subject are the rage.

The Queen of Shiplap, Joanna Gaines and husband Chip of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” tackle many repurposing projects on their weekly home renovations show. This network ratings champ is spinning-off a new series “Fixer Upper: Behind the Design.” Schools are also getting into the recycling/repurposing movement. Eco-School P.S. 34 Oliver Perry Elementary School in NYC recently hosted an EcoFashion show featuring unique looks from student designers crafted from plastic bags, Whole Foods paper bags, paper plates, and colorful bottle tops.

Generation Y Becomes Generation DIY

Blogger Jeff Fromm believes “Generation Y has become Generation DIY.” Fromm wrote in, “Young adults under the age of 35 dominate the 29 billion dollar crafting industry. Millennials are bringing together technology, creativity and entrepreneurism as they take on more DIY projects. Harnessing this new mentality is key for brands breaking into the millennial market. For brands that want to tap into the millennial DIY culture, they must understand the millennial desire for active participation, individual customization and experiential value.”

Repurposing has a place in the business world too. defines repurposing as “The use of something for a purpose other than its original intended use. Repurposing an item can be done by modifying it to fit a new use, or by using the item as is in a new way. The practice is not limited to physical items, and is a common practice for marketing material and content.” As a cost-saving measure, companies might use images from a previous successful advertising or marketing campaign or a pharmaceutical company might promote the use of a medication to treat a condition not originally tested. I doubt Bayer ever thought its baby aspirin would be considered a daily med for heart patients.

Everything Old is New Again … If You Give it Some Love

Repurposing is fueling new companies and industries too. Repurposed Materials is a supply business in Manteno, IL that buys industry waste byproducts, then resells the material to creative people who give it a second life and new purpose. Warehouses in Illinois, Denver and Atlanta are chockfull of the remnants of industrial life that savvy, crafty shoppers want. recently posted an “upcycling” design contest and fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity referred to as “flipping furniture for a cause.” The winner, artist Tammy Lockhart, revamped a $32 retro Crosley record player into a 98% repurposed wine bar. After removing the turntable, radio, and speaker panel, she added a wine rack, painted it gray, and accented the stained beadboard. Accessories and glassware live where the record player was. The door to the records is now a chalkboard serving tray.

Is “upcycling” just a fancy word for “recycling?” thinks not. “Recycling takes consumer materials — mostly plastic, paper, metal and glass — and breaks them down so their base materials can be remade into a new consumer product, often of lesser quality. When you upcycle an item, you aren’t breaking down the materials. You may be refashioning it — like cutting a t-shirt into strips of yarn — but it’s still made of the same materials as when you started. Also, the upcycled item is typically better or the same quality as the original.”

Upcycling Makes Sense in the City and the Country

British born Baby Wrangler, Melanie Sawyer, is a well-known figure in the children’s fashion industry. With a bent toward thrift and vintage, she loves trash hunting with her two boys in her Brooklyn neighborhood. “Other people’s trash are my treasures,” Ms. Sawyer says. “I adore rescuing and repurposing anything from plants to art to furniture.” In fact, she recently outfitted her building’s rooftop deck with her trash-hunted finds.

Kristi Bieniek loves woodworking, using wood recovered from an old cow barn and trees on her 800-acre farm in Missouri. “It’s wonderful taking something from many years ago and upcycling it into beautiful wood again,” says Mrs. Bieniek. “Wood has many layers and the beauty runs deep. Being able to transition it into new pieces is very fulfilling.” Recent projects include a wine box, candleholders, mirrors, and jewelry holders.

By Sheri Warren Sankner