Prismm Environmental MD Mike Jackson: "We aim to recycle the unrecyclable"

Written by: Jo Gallacher | Published:
Mike Jackson, managing director of Prismm Environmental

"I'm not sure I’ll have anything interesting to say,” says Mike Jackson, managing director of waste consultancy Prismm Environmental.

The 33-year-old is humble in nature, at first shy towards offering up his opinion on key issues within the industry. Yet Jackson is a self-labelled innovator, pledging to “recycle the previously unrecyclable”. A big promise for someone who only entered the waste sector professionally six years ago.

Prismm, short for Paper Recycling Industrial Materials Management, supplies waste management solutions to a wide range of clients – from food companies to the paper industry. It is a family business, originally set up by Jackson’s father, Adrian, in 2000.

After working as a waste paper merchant for 30 years, Adrian decide to channel his knowledge and experience into setting up the company. Becoming a consultant allowed him to both get the best price for his clients and manage the whole process.

Family businesses are a common occurrence in plenty of the UK’s industries, often seen by customers as reputable and trustworthy. So was it always inevitable for Jackson to become involved?

He says: “Never. I went off to the City to become a chartered accountant, and worked for a small firm specialising in entertainment and music. It was really cool and I got to deal with some big artists.”

Jackson was heading towards partnership at the business, but began to feel like he was getting squeezed out because he was working for, rather ironically, another family business. At a similar time, Adrian was thinking of selling up.

“I’d probably be making more doing something else,” Jackson says. “But it just seemed to work out, I was looking for other jobs at the time and thought a family business could be exciting. I get to meet so many interesting characters, each week is different and I’ve made genuine friends out of it.”

Though he is no longer managing director, Adrian is still active within the waste industry, currently acting as president of the Recycling Association, of which Jackson is also a board member.

Specialised clients

Since he began working for Prismm six years ago, Jackson has changed the company’s business model from a focus on large clients to a more stratified sample. He says: “It allows me to sleep easier at night as it’s less risky.

We lost one of our biggest clients at the beginning of last year simply because they were bought out by an American company which was friendly with a waste company over here. We ended up losing £400,000 worth of profit in one month, but now we’ve got a stable middle client base.

“We specialise in the size of manufacturer who can’t throw resources at having an environmental department to look after all of their waste issues and tender constantly to get the best prices.”

Originally the boss’s son, Jackson did feel as if he had to prove himself worthy of the position. He says: “It’s nice to have qualifications and success so I’m not just the owner’s son. Of course, coming from another company like that, I was very wary.

But the businesses I have done the accounts for have provided invaluable experience. Accountancy is really helpful and I do all the accounting at Prismm as much as possible to save us money.”

A large amount of Prismm’s client base come from the printing industry, which led Jackson to set up a ‘Zero Labels 2 Landfill’ scheme last year. He says: “Within the label industry, nobody wants to touch the waste because it’s huge bulky material and if you took it to an incinerator it would singe the outside and still leave the waste.

“We teamed up with a company in Lincolnshire who were prepared to shred it and put it through a different system, which makes it a better product. This then goes to a cement kiln and they burn it and put the ash into the cement, normal incinerators still end up with bottom and top ash so that’s why we can say it’s zero to landfill.”

Recycling the unrecyclable

For a business to thrive, it has to have a unique selling point, and it was the success of the scheme which partly contributed to the discovery of Prismm’s niche. Jackson says: “Our unique selling point was supposed to be the way we manage waste, but finding niche materials has been our most successful thing. Now we aim to drive initiatives in the unrecyclable.”

Developing on from the label scheme, Jackson and his team are now looking into how to recycle metalised polyester. Currently, the material is used as the shiny foil sealant on the top of toothpaste bottles, yet this leads to large sheets of waste material after its use. “We can only make these changes by telling people about the problem and putting some funding out there to support it,” he says.

And this is just one of Jackson’s many ongoing projects. He is also in the process of setting up a new plastics company and a shipping business. So how does he keep up with such a varied portfolio? More importantly, how does he find the time to sleep? “You do not want to step into my mind, there’s just so much going on at the moment. It’s my wife who makes sure my head doesn’t explode.”

But thinking up fresh ideas is nothing new to Jackson. “At school I’d sit in class coming up with business ideas. I must have been only 12, drawing a design for an alcohol delivery service, which they now do! I just really like doing new things and like to keep busy.”

Sign of the times

Whether it’s in film, TV or the media, our relationship with technology is a cause of constant conversation, with varying views on how much we should depend on it. Not for Jackson, however, who believes technology can only help the industry progress.

He says: “People treat the waste industry in a certain way as if it still acts in the old-school way of doing things where companies would make money by lying about waste. So in this case, the more technology that helps makes the industry more transparent, the better.

“But it’s also going to help in terms of systems. For example, the way the household waste is picked up. It’s so disjointed as there’s so many different types of collections. Technology could help analyse materials and work out if it’s going in this stream or that. I think things like this will happen, it’s just a matter of when in my opinion.”

And it’s these principles which are helping influence Jackson’s decision-making within the company. He says: “We’ve now downloaded our own online ordering system for our clients.

It’s not an app as such, but is mobile-friendly as we thought this was more sensible. But this can definitely be extended to post-consumer; obviously we’re not the first to look at this, but it’s definitely on our agenda.”

Jackson is evidently in the process of future-proofing the business, given that Prismm has begun accepting Bitcoin payments against its invoices, as well as setting up its first paper payment through bitcoin.

It is also trialling blockchain for VGMs, which allows digital information to be distributed but not copied, potentially replacing the very unpopular Annex VII forms.

As uncertainty rises in a post-Brexit landscape, perhaps more businesses ought to be following Jackson’s lead and developing their own solutions in preparation for the changing nature of the waste and resource industry, rather than waiting for the go-ahead from a government which appears to consistently drag its feet.

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