Glitter from Litter

In 2003, free council-run services might have heralded the end of the line for Magpie Recycling, but three years on, the business is back on track. Michael Gapper speaks to Robert Jones-Mantle about overcoming the challenges and what's in store for the future.

Having worked across nearly every department of Brighton’s Magpie Recycling, Robert Jones-Mantle is happy to talk about the organisation, so long as it’s clear he doesn’t speak for Magpie. “I’m a worker really. When I’m there I drive the van or have my nose in books and websites looking after the accounts.” As a cooperative, all staff members have an equal say in how the business is run and no one person speaks for everyone else. “Everybody’s in charge,” according to Jones-Mantle, “no one person has the power to hire, fire or spend money. That comes from a discussion, which is agreed though a consensus. It’s not an easy way to work, but I think you’ll find that any company on the stock exchange will say their shareholders are just as hard to work with. It can be a big help – when the democracy is working there aren’t any decisions that everyone hasn’t been involved in making.”

Established in 1989 by a handful of volunteers, Magpie registered as a cooperative limited company in 1992 and fast became a successful handler of business waste in Brighton and Hove. The business peaked in the late nineties following Brighton City Council’s decision to opt for a bring site recycling programme rather than a kerbside collection. Magpie seized the opportunity to expand upon its existing commercial collection service and establish its own kerbside round. “We had a kind of grumble with what the council was doing with household waste and the direction they were choosing to take their recycling scheme, so we set up our own. We had no direct help from the local authority,” Jones-Mantle explains, “our contracts are with private customers, homes, businesses.”