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Article - Oprah Magazine

"Material World" A Recycling Enthusiast finds new uses for big business waste
Damon Carson is a self-described tightwad. The tattered desk chair in his Denver office was pulled from a Dumpster—a decade ago. He drives a used ’99 Chevy Silverado and wears thrift-store clothes. For several years, Carson ran a garbage company in the ritzy Colorado ski towns of Vail and Breckenridge, which regularly brought him to a local landfill. There he often saw brand-new windows and cabinets amid the rubble, and sometimes rescued these items from the pile. “It was heartbreaking to see perfectly good things about to be buried,” he says.

In 2010, eight years after Carson sold his trash company, an artist friend in the billboard industry mentioned that the massive ads, removed from their boards, made great drop cloths for painting. The wheels in Carson’s head began to turn. He found a few billboards for sale, and put out feelers to friends in the agriculture and construction industries to see if they had any use for them. Thanks to his intervention, the billboards were reborn as tarps to cover hay and building materials. “We quickly ran out,” says Carson, who was so encouraged that he started reaching out to more industries—from bowling pin manufacturers to poultry farmers—to inquire about purchasing hard-to-recycle items.

Soon he’d founded repurposedMATERIALS, a company that turns would-be trash into valuable commodities. Torn-down billboards become pond liners, projection screens, even makeshift Slip ‘N Slides. Synthetic turf from football fields is refashioned into cushioning for egg-laying chickens. And when one customer intuited that street-sweepers’ brushes, stood on end, could be back scratchers for livestock, Carson sold two to the Bronx Zoo for its rhinoceros pen. “We’re helping industries pool their knowledge,” he says. “And our customers spend far less than they would buying similar products new.”

Carson now spends his days devouring trade magazines and visiting businesses to examine what they’re throwing away. “This is my second foray into the waste stream of America,” he says with a laugh. “Round one, I was burying things in the landfill. Round two, I’m trying to keep them out.”

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