A Closer Look E-mail the author

Star Recycling
Harry Purnell • 205-841-8208

Before Harry Purnell was in the recycling business, he worked as a retail consultant for store décor packages – things like signs and other fixtures. While he enjoyed the travel, he found that it took him away from his family too much. He told himself, “I’ve got to do something different.” At the same time that he was considering other employment, his father-in-law was considering selling off part of his own business – the recycling portion of his used truck business.

Purnell decided that what he didn’t know about recycling, he could learn, and six years ago he purchased that recycling business. “I knew a lot about steel,” Purnell said, “but not a lot about scrap.” He said that he got a lot of help learning about the business, and that his employees made it a lot easier for him.

His father-in-law, now 67 years old, is still going strong with his original business, selling used trucks, dismantling trucks, and selling truck parts from his 20-acre site. The recycling had only been a sideline for him, and he had been trying to sell it for some time. Purnell was the perfect buyer.

At first, the business focused on retrieving scrap from landfills, but Purnell began expanding the scope. Today, the majority of his business focuses on going to difficult sites to remove material.

Once such project was the removal of “A D-9 dozer way out in the woods – and it had been there for 20 years.” The bulldozer had been sitting for so long that trees had grown around it – and through it. But it wasn’t just a matter of getting the metal out – there were still fluids in the machine that had to be drained.

The crew cut down trees and disassembled enough of the 60-ton machine to get it onto a truck and back to Purnell’s facility. When it arrived, Purnell said, “Dad-gum, that thing is big!” It had been sitting in a pit and was dwarfed by the huge trees around it, but when it was on his property, it looked much larger.

Purnell’s yard doesn’t accept material “off the street” – it’s strictly for his use for processing the material he brings in. But his goal is to process as much as possible on-site. He has a portable baler and shear, and his crews operate torches when necessary, with the hopes that he can ship directly from the work site to the steel mill or foundry.

Not all of his projects are quite that difficult, although he is becoming known as the go-to guy for the unique situations. “We’re reliable,” he said, “and we’re willing to try anything” when it comes to getting the material off the customer’s site.

Star Recycling also works with local demolition companies, removing the scrap after the demolition work is done, and working with local corporations and government entities on removing large equipment from their sites.

In the 6 years he has owned the business, Purnell has not only enlarged the scope of the material handled, but he also “broadened the geographical market” which has helped him keep his 10 employees busy. Since his business relies on short-term projects rather than long-term contracts, his biggest challenge has been maintaining a steady stream of work.

Purnell said that business has improved, but like other companies, he suffered a few slow years. However, he was pleased that he was able to get through those difficult times without the need for any layoffs.

Through it all, though, his focus has been on the one thing that brought him into the business in the first place – family. “Business will always be there,” he said, “but family comes first.”