ExecuSpeak Dictionary: Repurpose

PHILADELPHIA ( MainStreet) -- "Repurpose" seems to be an ever-so-useful word. It's a lovely catch-all, more so than "reuse" and "recycle" and far better than "salvage." Akin to "reinvent."  

It seems that anything can be repurposed ... ideas, furniture, shopping centers, books and more. "Repurpose" is a wide-ranging and all-encompassing concept.  

Let's review some of the alternatives:

Towels are reused. Hotels provide their guests with the opportunity to re-use towels one day to the next instead of putting fresh towels in every room every day. Clothing is reused, handed down or resold. The basic thing stays the same, but not when someone else is wearing it. Plastic bags are reused when the little sack that carried home the apples is used the next day to carry out the trash.  

Trash is recycled. It is broken down, pulverized or chemically processed so it can be used as an ingredient in some other process or product. Sometimes trash is repurposed so gum wrappers are the key ingredient of woven toys and bracelets available at Ten Thousand Villages gift shops.   

Frequently scrap is salvaged, taken apart, sorted, separated and possibly sold off in many directions. Scrap metal can be melted down and used again. (Some of the scrap is recycled. Think T-shirts made from old tires.) Opportunities are salvaged. Maybe the plan is not the original plan, but that doesn't mean all is for naught. 

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Let's not forget reinvent. Sometimes people talk about "reinventing the wheel" but that's when the word is used in a negative way. Reinvention is not always a bad thing. In its own way, Apple's ( AAPL) iPod is a reinvented portable CD player. Martha Stewart ( MSO), the company, was considered "reinvented" when it survived without Martha Stewart, the person, at the helm. The news that the iPod hardware designer just reinvented the thermostat is considered a good thing.  

Repurposing, however, seems to be the word of choice when the goal or the accomplishment is to create value by finding a new reason for an existing product or process. Think of it this way: If the purpose for doing something is the reason, repurposing is finding a new reason -- giving new life from something that has been discarded or, perhaps, left by the wayside. Examples might include:
  • Burp clothes created by sewing scraps of fabric onto old diapers.
  • Vegetable gardens in vacant lots fertilized by food waste in the mulch pile.
  • Recovering addicts sharing knowledge and experience in the role of addiction counselors and mentors.
  • Start-up incubators and flea markets occupying abandoned warehouses and shopping centers.

Repurposing is not just about things; it can apply to people too. To all the unemployed, underemployed and unhappily employed: May 2012 be the year you successfully repurpose your life.

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