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. It's common to repurpose 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 repurposed by being frequently used to treat illnesses and symptoms for which they were not originally intended.

Key Takeaways

  • Repurposing is the use of something for a purpose other than its original intended purpose by modifying or using the item in a new way.
  • Repurposing can be a cost-effective strategy since the reused items can prevent a business from having to purchase new materials.
  • Items and materials that are frequently repurposed include steel, aluminum, plastics, and electronics.

How Repurposing Works

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. Repurposing can be a cost-effective strategy since the reused items can prevent a business from having to purchase new, possibly more expensive materials.

However, repurposing might not always be environmentally friendly or cost-effective. For example, an old building could be converted to a new use but not updated enough to reduce energy costs. Or, for example, an old gasoline engine-powered car could be repurposed as an electric car, which would involve a costly conversion and may not lead to greater efficiency.

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. 

Repurposing Expertise into Digital Content

For consultants that meet clients, they might engage in numerous presentations showcasing their expertise or intellectual capital. Highlights from all of those presentations, conference calls, and client meetings can be collected and repurposed into marketing one-pagers, blog posts, or digital books.

For example, a financial planning company could create a free digital download containing quick tips on how to create a budget for those who sign up for the firm's newsletter. Infographics can also be created from repurposed content included screen-captures of videos, quotes, graphs. The graphics can be showcased on the company's website or in marketing material.

In other words, repurposing doesn't only save money; it can lead to new ways to present old ideas, boost client engagement, and generate additional streams of revenue.

Examples of Repurposing

Below are several examples of how items across various industries are being repurposed.

Packaging

Packaging, including aluminum, steel cans, cardboard, and rigid plastics can be reused and repurposed into various plastic or metal products. Plastic water bottles are often repurposed from recycled material.

Pharmaceuticals

Many drugs today were initially intended for other purposes. For example, the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra was initially intended to treat various cardiovascular disorders. Companies are repurposing their research and development into multiple products.

Electronics

Some obsolete electronic items may be repurposed for specific tasks. Old computers and laptops can be refurbished and donated to schools. Outdated tablets can be repurposed into digital photo frames.

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 such as furniture, frames, and reused as raw materials rather than taken to a landfill.