We ❤️ Brighton Heroes: Magpie Collective

We ❤️ Brighton Heroes is a new PLATF9RM series that profiles Brighton people or organisations doing amazing things in our city.

Our first blog focuses on the good folk at Magpie Collective. For 27 years Magpie Collective have been helping their users recycle more efficiently and their famous Green Boxes can be seen on pavements across the city, ready to for their weekly pick-ups by Magpie collectors. They also run Shabitat, aka ‘Brighton Ikea’, as well as a number of other altruistic projects.

We spoke to George O’Leary from Magpie about their story, why we need to think harder about our paper and plastics, and how Magpie are hoping to revolutionize recycling in Brighton.

Hey George! Can you explain what Magpie do?

Magpie is a worker’s co-operative which aims to reduce the amount of waste destined for landfill, as well as raise awareness of green issues and their impact on our community. Our structure and approach to business is designed to enable work and encourage people to be of benefit to the local area through empowered democratic governance.

Our work takes the form of household and business recycling collections, green waste collections and furniture re-use.

Furinture van gaz.JPG

Can you explain a little of your history?

We started modestly in the early 90s, with a group of volunteers collecting recyclable materials from local homes and businesses. At the time the notion of recycling was marginalised. Magpie was challenging the local authority to act on the issue. Recycling had not become the multi-faceted industry it is today.

Our Green Box service – wherein residents pay a small fee to have their recycling collected by us and recycled far more efficiently than it would by the council – grew and at its peak
collected from over 3500 households as well as hundreds of businesses.


Have you got any stats regarding how much waste Magpie recycles annually?

Having done some quick calculations:


12 tonnes of tins/cans
104 tonnes of glass
140 tonnes of paper/ card
Around 10 tonnes tetra packs
Around 15 tonnes plastics

5.4 tonnes of textiles recycle (this does not account for the clothing that we sell and donate to projects both here and abroad, so that’s probably another 10 tonnes being re-used).

Over 2500 items of furniture (around 100 tonnes waste furniture diverted from landfill).

Wow, that’s a lot. And how much does your Green Box scheme cost?

It’s currently £18 a quarter, payable in advance.  It works out at £1.39 a week.


That isn’t a lot. Do you think, in general, people need to start taking more responsibility for their house waste?

Brighton residents should think about how our services are run, where the waste and recycling are headed as well as re-thinking the Council’s current service provider (Veolia). We would encourage every resident to research these things

Do we put too much trust in our council to recycle our waste properly?

YES is the simple answer. Residents should question what their council tax is being spent on, recycling rates (especially in a Green-led local council) and how much of our recyclable materials are being used to keep the Newhaven Incinerator burning.

Other questions to consider: do large, communal recycling bins work? Have you caught yourself putting recyclable materials in the ‘non-recyclable waste’ bin because it is easier?



Yep. How bad actually is that??

The effect of putting non recycled materials in with recycling is quite simple – it will contaminate and contaminated recycling is more likely to be incinerated by our local council. Don’t forget that a machine sorts Brighton & Hove recycling. (Quick plug: Magpie hand sort ours.)


What is the most common thing people do wrong with their recycling?

From a Magpie point of view we’d say: not washing cans, plastic, and glass; messy and unsorted boxes; people mistaking the green Box as somewhere to dispose of dog waste. Also, a lack of knowledge as to what can be recycled.


How do you see Magpie developing in the future?

We have been working on a plan to transform recycling in the community, through a new model of neighbourhood owned services. Giving back control of these services to the city street by street, we feel that more connection to this service in your local area will encourage a greater sense of ownership and foster responsibility. This project will need funding and support. Look out for our crowd funding initiative, coming soon…

We also have some plans to develop our Shabitat store, make it more engaging. As well as continuing to challenge the ideas behind recycling and re-use.


Can you explain a little about Shabitat and the Homeless furniture project?

Shabitat is our second hand home store; we collect and re-distribute unwanted furniture, textiles, books, CDs, DVDs household wares and many other weird and wonderful items. The stock is constantly changing as there is so much of this type of waste in Brighton. We live in a transitory city with two Universities and many rented homes; people are always moving so there is a constant supply.

The furniture project was started in collaboration with BHCC’s ‘Housing Support Service’ to supply free furniture to those who have been homeless or re-housed and therefore not in a position to buy items themselves. We are also working with local homeless organisation Off The Fence, as well as Brighton Food Bank, Syrian Friends, Calais Action Brighton and others.


Wow. Finally, why is Brighton such a suitable home for a scheme like this?

Brighton has a history of being a very leftie free thinking kind of place, people here are open to the development of their space for the better