Innovative Ideas Blooming for Industrial Waste

AUTHOR: Ava Henrickson

Jim “Wally” Walczak has been buying up parachutes and 55-gallon orange-juice barrels as he prepares for the anticipated massive increase of visitors at this summer’s 75th annual Sturgis motorcycle rally.

No, Walczak, chief operating officer of the Buffalo Chip Campground near Sturgis, isn’t planning for bikers to replace cruising with skydiving, nor does he expect them to give up their usual beverage of choice in favor of a healthful breakfast drink.

But through canny shopping, Walczak has found that plenty of to-be-dumped items will serve the campground’s guests while saving the company money.

For instance, he needed to add hundreds of garbage barrels, but couldn’t find them locally. Then Walczak discovered a Denver company called repurposedMATERIALS, which collects unwanted industrial waste items and gives them a new use.

He ended up with a very sweet deal: about 200 metal 55-gallon barrels that were once used as industrial orange juice containers.

When they were holding OJ, they had liners inside, so the barrels themselves “are virtually brand new,” Walczak said. “And they are bright orange, so they won’t walk away.”

He got the used OJ containers for $24 each, delivered by repurposedMATERIALS. Owner and founder Damon Carson started the company four years ago when a painting contractor he was working with mentioned that the giant vinyl material used for advertising on billboards made perfect drop cloths.

“I have an entrepreneurial bone in my body, and I thought that was cool and interesting,” said Carson, former owner of a garbage-collection business.

It got him thinking about ways other things in the industrial waste stream could be re-purposed.

“Suddenly, throwing things in landfills is frowned upon and only going to get more so,” Carson, 43, said. “We as a society know what to do with paper, metal and cardboard; it’s called recycling.”

But he said many things are hard for regular people to recycle. “If you can’t recycle it, corporate America shrugs their shoulders and says, ‘What can we do?’”

What they can do is call Carson, who in the last four years has expanded repurposedMATERIALS to include warehouses in Denver, Chicago and Atlanta. The company’s inventory includes a vast variety of industrial items such as street-sweeper brushes, rubber conveyor belts used in mining, concrete slabs that once anchored cable utility boxes, and giant U.S. Army cargo parachutes.

“We have very unrelated items,” Carson said. “We are The Home Depot of these repurposed materials.”

The ways his customers re-use what others consider rubbish is limited only by their imaginations, according to Carson. Cathy Timmons, a rancher from the White Owl area, found several ways to repurpose a vinyl billboard cover.

“I garden a lot, so I used some of it for tarp on my big tomato plants,” Timmons said. “We live on a creek, so we get the first and last frost. It was heavy enough, I used it on a greenhouse building.”

Environmental consultant and rancher Derek Tornow of Rockerville used similar vinyl material to cover round hay bales for his two picky pet horses.

“They are hay Nazis, they are adamant about covered hay,” Tornow said.

It’s no surprise that ranchers would find ways to repurpose these types of materials.

“Ranchers are the original recyclers,” Timmons said. “We get a lot of good use out of what someone else pitched out. It’s a shame what all gets thrown away.”

Richard Morgan, a rancher near Alzada, Mont., rescued some street-sweeper brushes that he puts upright for his cattle to rub on in the summer when they are losing their winter hair.

“That gets to itching, so they want to get the hair out,” Morgan said. “It keeps them from rubbing on fences and buildings. They love it.”

Repurposing items considered waste does more than keep them out of the landfill, according to Carson.

“For customers, not unlike buying used cars or used clothes, when you repurpose you have a chance to save 50 to 75 percent. At the same time, you help someone keep things out of the landfill,” Carson said. “It makes sense both ways, economically and environmentally.”

The Buffalo Chip is taking full advantage. The campground also purchased four cargo parachutes and some plastic portable flooring. The parachutes will be used to provide shade at some yet-to-be-determined spots at the Buffalo Chip, and the flooring will be laid down for special events.

“I’ve been shopping (for the flooring) for years,” Walczak said. “It saved us anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000.”

Carson said he realizes that, eventually, these repurposed materials will become unusable and make their way to the landfill.

“But we did give them an extended life,” he said, “and in their extended life, they kept another product from being made new.”