What is 'Repurposing'

Repurposing is 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. For example, a business may use images from an older, successful advertising campaign in a new campaign rather than come up with brand new images. In the pharmaceutical industry, medications are frequently used to treat illnesses and symptoms for which they were not originally intended.

Breaking Down 'Repurposing'

Repurposing is essentially a form of recycling. It may take the form of hobby crafting or be employed as a materials cost reduction strategy by a large manufacturer. Instead of throwing an item away, an individual or business finds a new use for it. This can be a cost-effective strategy, since items that can be used instead of discarded prevent a business from having to purchase new, possibly expensive items. However, repurposing may not always be environmentally friendly or cost-effective. For example, an old building may be converted to a new use but not updated enough to reduce energy usage, or an old gasoline engine-powered car may be repurposed as an electric car, which may entail a costly conversion, as well as reduced efficiency and usefulness.

Repurposing Examples

There are numerous examples of repurposing. They include:

  • Packaging: Some packaging, such as aluminum and steel cans, and cardboard and rigid plastic used in certain products may find themselves reused in cottage-produced as well as mass-produced consumer goods. In 2015, a Reddit post revealed the rigid core of a mobile phone case to be made of repurposed cardboard toothpaste packaging.
  • Pharmaceuticals: Many useful drugs today were initially intended for other purposes. For example, the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra was initially intended to treat various cardiovascular disorders.
  • Electronics: Some obsolete electronic items may be repurposed for specific tasks. For example, older, smaller (in memory) USB thumb drives may be used for specific purposes, such as file-sharing dead drops.
  • Cars and trucks: Older, less efficient cars and trucks that have been used as fleet vehicles may be sold and utilized for far longer by other individuals or businesses.
  • Scrap material: Paper, plastic, metal, wood and other materials left over from the manufacturing process may be repurposed for a variety of uses rather than taken to a landfill.

Repurposing and Similar Practices

Repurposing, when performed as a way to reduce waste and supplant a new, manufactured good is an element of micro-sustainability, which is a focus on small environmentally friendly actions that can add up to a larger environmental impact. Repurposing is also related to freecycling, which is the donation of usable but unwanted items to those that can use them rather than throwing them away. 

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