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Thurston Campbell Talks Trash and Firm Junk Starz

One man's trash is another man's legacy.

Photo by Lauren Jeziorski

Thurston Campbell's got one of those jobs that you hardly ever remember is even a thing, like the guy who hangs billboards or the woman who melts and shapes the metal for shopping carts. Campbell hauls junk, like the stuff that's piled up in the basement of your family home for 20 years, and for him, each house is a chest of forgotten treasures and every day brings him one step closer to leaving a legacy for his family.

Junk Starz, Campbell's company, hauled off its first load of junk in April 2017. Before that, he worked for a couple of large junk hauling firms in Atlanta and then it was back home to Detroit and to Chrysler for four years. "It came to a certain point last year where the amount of lack of control over my life – where they could change my schedule, move me here, move me there – I just couldn't take it anymore," he says. So, Campbell gave his two
weeks' notice. "I considered it graduating."

Since walking out of the plant and across the metaphorical stage, he's turned one truck into three and hired four employees who service the metro Detroit area. A hauling day starts with Campbell and crew going over the day's schedule and making sure they've got everything they'll need and that the truck's tires will hold up to driving through landfills and over dumpsites. Campbell says, "You could run into a lot of nails and get a lot of flats, I'll say that." Customers get a heads-up call 30 minutes before the guys arrive to assess the job, which comes with an estimate based on how much yardage they think your debris will take up. "That's how we charge: by how much junk you have."

If the price is right, Campbell gets started, and Junk Starz doesn't just chuck with abandon. Salvageable items like furniture or toys in good condition are donated to thrift stores or resale shops, or go to friends and family. "I've probably furnished everybody's house that I know at one point in time," Campbell says. Uncovering hidden gems is one of his favorite parts of the job, he says. Campbell calls it "the thrill of the hunt." He's acquired a photo signed by Babe Ruth and a 1994 Toyota Camry over the years. "It still drove," he says. "Like, I started it up and drove it away."

Junk Starz also takes care to properly dispose of hazardous materials like lead, copper or paint, gallons of which are known to be stuffed into some corner, filed under One Day I Might Need This. "You can't just get rid of that," Campbell says. His tip for paint is to add kitty litter to it. Let it sit for a day or so and the litter will soak up the liquid, and now it's safe to throw out.

Campbell says it's bigger than tossing a rusted-out bookshelf or a bunch of moldy boxes; he hopes to help fuel the entrepreneurial spirit in his son, 3-year-old Langston, and the kids in the neighborhood. Once, he and wife Marisa recovered hundreds of duffle bags filled with coloring books, teddy bears, blankets and such from a storage unit. They took them up to a youth sports organization – the Southfield Jayhawks' practice field – and handed them out; but also, Campbell gave the kids some insight into what he does and about the possibilities that stem from entrepreneurship.

He says black youth tend to consider only two once-in-a-million pipelines to grandiose success: sports or entertainment. "If I can give them another idea and plant a seed at 12 – then obviously they have to come back when they get older – but it may grow into something. We've got to look down the line and go, 'OK, what can we do to kind of secure our place in being able to take care of ourselves and our family?'"

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