Upcycling on the Farm & Ranch

Jul 27, 2022

By Damon Carson

Damon Carson owns repurposedMATERIALS, a company that is helping industries across the U.S. consider if there are “repurpose-able” options for their used or obsolete materials before simply sending them to the dump.

Farms and ranches generate almost entirely biodegradable products. But that doesn’t mean that a lot of material waste doesn’t come from the agriculture industry.

The work of farms and ranches is intimately tied to the environment, and therefore those involved are typically very good stewards of their resources. But it doesn’t take a “tree hugger” to be concerned about how much trash is being produced in the United States today—about 292 million tons, according to the EPA. Picture a train 2,920,000 cars long, stretching nearly one-and-a-quarter times around the world, hauling off the nation’s waste.

Farmers and ranchers can play a big part in the management of waste. And they don’t have to undertake big measures to make a contribution to landfill diversion, nor to save money using “repurposed” resources.

At least one niche company is using ingenious ways to repurpose anything from farm materials to football turf, showing how to save money while also preventing unnecessary waste.

That company, repurposedMATERIALS, is helping industries across the nation reduce their environmental impact by finding a second life for a surprising number of items. Here are few of repurposedMATERIALS’ creative applications of used materials:

  • Aluminum stadium bleacher planks are repurposed for walkways and decks, or covers for patios
  • Shower doors become windows for a greenhouse
  • Polyiso insulation is used to keep buried water and sewer lines from freezing
  • Old basketball court floors and football field turf are used for floors, playgrounds and wall decorations

“We all have a part to play in protecting our environment,” said repurposedMATERIALS owner Damon Carson. “It makes sense environmentally and economically. Giving materials a second life keeps them out of the landfill, which can come with surprising cost savings.”

For half a century, the solution to the waste problem has been recycling. But recycling involves the reprocessing of materials. “That uses energy, another kind of waste. It’s expensive. And it’s inefficient,” Carson says.

For those reasons, he says recycling ranks just above “waste-to-energy” (i.e., burning) on the waste hierarchy. Recycling keeps a portion of the junk out of the landfill, but is there some way to reduce industrial waste more efficiently? Carson believes the answer is “yes,” and the solution is not recycling but instead “repurposing.” Rather than melting, shredding, chipping or grinding—the recycling process—his repurposedMATERIALS finds new uses for materials in their current form.

“If something is obsolete to the primary user, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value somewhere,” Carson says. “If you find yourself saying ‘I can’t use this. What am I going to do with it?’ that’s where we come in.”

Some of the top repurposers are farmers and ranchers, Carson shares. “Cowboy ingenuity” lends itself readily to finding new uses for previously used products.

Pictured is mining conveyor belting “repurposed” as a deflector on a no-till planter. Carson says farmers are some of the top “repurposers” giving second-life to materials to keep them out of landfills.

“A great example of repurposing is the use of concrete railroad ties for low-water bridges,” Carson said. “Laid parallel to the flow of water, they won’t move because they weigh 800 pounds apiece.”

Some other farm and ranch repurposing examples include:

  • Retired mining conveyor belts are used for everything from wind breaks to fences across water gaps; slings under cattle during hoof trimming to corridor liners in corrals
  • Used billboard canvases make for good shade awnings, hay tarps and ditch liners
  • Big machinery tires, sliced in half, with the hole filled with cement make cattle water tanks that will last for decades
  • Road guardrails are used for fencing

Carson challenges farmers and ranchers to consider if there are “repurpose-able” options for their used or obsolete materials before simply sending them to the dump.

Proud of what his company has been able to accomplish, Carson believes repurposing is at the intersection of affordability and sustainability. For the one getting rid of waste, there may be a savings beyond just paying to dispose of the material. And for the one utilizing repurposed material over a primary-purpose product, there is typically a savings of 50 to 75%, he reports.

“We adhere to the belief, ‘It is not waste until it is wasted,’” he says. “If you can avoid paying for disposal and you can keep it out of the landfill, it’s a win-win.”

Learn more about Carson’s business at