Fiber news

Building the Valley: From wooden barrels to fiber barrels, family business Plum has been recycling for over a century

At a time when recycling was not common, Penn Barrel Inc., founded in 1908, built its wooden barrel reconditioning business.

Today, the Plum-based company reconditions and recycles 55-gallon steel, plastic and fiber drums for use in environmental cleanup and other applications in the region.

“We’re a small company, but we do a lot of distribution,” said Adam Kaufman, the fourth-generation owner of Penn Barrel, which started in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.

“We’ve had our little niche and we’ve always had what customers need in stock.”

The business began as Penn Barrel and Cooperage Co. A person who repairs barrels is known as a cooper.

Kaufman’s great-grandfather, Eli Weiner, reconditioned wooden barrels for anything that could be packaged and shipped, such as petroleum, Kaufman said.

The family business continues to thrive after more than a century because “people will still have materials to ship and need a decent-sized container to ship them,” Kaufman said.

The company employs 20 people and is looking to hire more workers.

Much like his father, when he was young Kaufman spent summers working in the family barrel business.

He said he enjoyed niche pursuits, just like his parents. He said his mother was still working there.

The company’s diverse customer base comes from within a 200-mile radius of its Plum factory.

Operations moved from its East Liberty facility to Plum eight years ago to expand floor space to recondition barrels.

Decades ago, the company worked as a broker and distributor of barrels.

Today, Penn Barrel helps businesses that receive materials in drums and are then stuck with the drums.

“We contact them, or they find us,” Kaufman said.

Given the supply of used barrels, the company focused more on reconditioning when it expanded to Plum.

“We recycle, help the environment and save money for customers who can buy reconditioned kegs instead of new,” Kaufman said.

Companies that recycle commercial products, like Penn Barrel does, play a role in reducing waste, said Lauren Fraley, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“Waste reduction, beneficial reuse and recycling are important for everyone, not just individuals or municipalities,” she said.

DEP connects businesses, organizations and individuals to outlets for recyclable materials, such as barrels, Fraley said.

To learn more about Penn Barrel Inc., visit

Mary Ann Thomas is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .