Recycling pioneer tells his busy life story for charity

Front cover of Paul Rackham's autobipography
Front cover of Paul Rackham's autobipography
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THE man who gave East Anglia its first skips and bottle banks has written his life history.

Paul Rackham was born in Peasenhall in 1936, spent his childhood on the Euston Estate, where his father was the estate’s thatcher, and now farms 2,000 acres of Norfolk.

His book Paul Rackham – No Time to Waste, tells his story in a readably conversational way and any profits from it will go to St Nicholas Hospice Care.

Paul said last week: “I’ve had my share of successes and failures but you don’t let the failures get you down. You use it as an inspiration to get on and build.”

The book tells how even as a child he earned money however he could, including selling rabbits and pigeons he had shot to local people and moleskins to a furrier.

He started his first business selling livestock from an old brickyard beside his parents’ house in Euston. His turnover grew to £100,000 a year in 1956, but he lost everything to swine flu. To pay off his debts he joined the earthmoving company that worked on the M1 and Luton Airport then started his own earthworks contractors in 1960.

Among his company’s early jobs was the earthworks for Thetford’s London overspill housing project.

In 1962, he began East Anglia’s first skip company, which he sold three years later. His successes bought him smart cars, racehorses and racing studs.

But in 1973 his company Roeday Properties was about to be sold for £6.25 million when a banking crisis hit property prices and instead of receiving his £3.25 million share of the sale, he found himself £1 million in debt.

Paul worked his way back up and spotted that recycling was the way to go, launching the Thetford-based Waste Recycling in 1983.

Looking back he says: “It was obvious recycling would have to play a much bigger part in waste management.

“We couldn’t carry on burying stuff and forgetting about it.”

His first eight bottle banks went with Breckland Council and he recalls how once other councils saw it would work, they all wanted some. In 10 years they had 2,000 with 23 councils across the country.

It was far sighted but he says glass was the obvious thing to pioneer public recycling with because it can be recycled repeatedly.

He added: “If you give the public the facilities, the public will respond. If authorities made civil amenity sites more user friendly, more people would use them – they should do drive-though ones.”

So is that his next business project? “I’m in my 70s and I’m into my farming,” he said. “I do miss the buzz of the waste disposal business, but I don’t miss driving all over the country.”

He says friends pushed him to write the book and he did it for his seven grandchildren.

“Youngsters today should realise what it was like to get started in business 45 years ago,” he said. “They have more opportunities now but you’ve got to get out there and take advantage of them.

“It’s not magic, it’s hard work and common sense.”

Paul Rackham – No Time to Waste is £16.99 from Thorogood Publishing at