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Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade Hardcover – November 12, 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 127 customer reviews

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  • Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade
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  • A Fortune In Scrap - Secrets of the Scrap Metal Industry
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  • Starting from Scrap: An Entrepreneurial Success Story
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Growing up as the son of a scrap dealer in Minneapolis, Minter learned firsthand that one man's trash is truly another man's treasure. In his first book, the Shanghai-based journalist charts the globalization of the recycling trade, focusing on the U.S. and China, and featuring a cast that ranges from self-made scrap-metal tycoons to late-night garbage pickers. Notable passages include a trip to Wen'an, one of China's most notoriously polluted plants where employees process hazardous materials while wearing sandals. Minter successfully resists oversimplifying the issue China currently faces—with a growing middle class demanding more raw materials for new construction, the options are living with the pollution caused by recycling or the environmental consequences of mining for raw materials. Minter takes readers through the Shanghai market where parts are harvested from second-hand electronics, but finds that the more complex the technology, the harder it is to reuse the metals. The scrap trade is one of the few business ventures possible in the developing world and this profession for outsiders shows no signs of slowing down. Minter concludes that the solution is in the first word in the phrase, Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. 2 16-page color inserts. (Nov.)

From Booklist

Out of sight, out of mind. That’s the typical sentiment of even the most meticulous recycler who doesn’t really think about where those carefully sorted cans, bottles, magazines and newspapers go after they’ve been picked up curbside. From big screen TVs to the tiniest of Christmas tree lights, there’s a world of trash—or, in the parlance, scrap—out there. And lest one think that it all ends up in a landfill for future archaeologists to ponder, Minter is here to tell you that there’s big money to be made in what American consumers and industries throw away. As he travels the world from Houston to Guangzhou, surveying the debris and discards that fill scrap yards and warehouses, Minter takes the reader into a world of commodities trading that is every bit as lucrative and cutthroat as anything on Wall Street. The son of a scrap man, Minter brings an insider’s knowledge and appreciation for an industry that no one thinks about, everyone contributes to, and a lucky few profit from. --Carol Haggas
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 1St Edition edition (November 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608197913
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608197910
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #341,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By James Denny on November 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The saying, "one man's junk is another man's treasure," could easily be an alternative title to Adam Minter's "Junkyard Planet."

Junkyard Planet will get you thinking about everything that you use, especially those items which you do not use up. So where does this stuff go? Well, a lot of it gets exported overseas, especially to China, where the need for scrap metal, scrap paper and scrap plastic is high. Recyclables are headed to places where the need for raw materials is not met by the amount of scrap generated in-country and where the cost of virgin materials is considerably higher.

There is value in scrap. It will be found in those places where the costs of sorting, separating and cleaning it, along with transport, is lower than its value in reuse or in recycled materials. The margin or difference in cost is where money is.

One of most important principles Minter espouses is, "the worst, dirtiest recycling is still better than the very best clear-cut forest or the most up-to-date open-pit mine." In other words, most low grade scrap would end up in a landfill if it were not exported to a place where its future value is above the cost of recycling and transport.

Adam Minter knows his subject well. He was brought up in a Minnesota family with a modestly-sized family recycling business. He understands the terminology, the business process, how scrapping works. Metals were the key material in his parents family business. Minter's travels take him across the United States and Asia, to China in particular. With the rapid rise of the Chinese economy, it is China most of all, where international recycling is in full form.
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The scrap yards that I remember from my youth were what the author refers to as auto junkyards. I always believed they were the one and only place where scrap went, whether it was a car being sold in pieces or put into a crusher and turned into a pile of junk metal. I never really knew that there were places that specialized in other types of scrap, but I soon learned about the long history of scrap yards as I read this book.

The author takes the reader on a tour of the various types of scrap that exist. From electrical wire, to electric motors, to plastics, to cars and to steel and aluminum and many more, each type of scrap has a market and a place in the recycling pecking order. In addition, there are places in China that specialize in each of these types of scrap.

Our garbage is China's, and to a lesser extent, India's raw materials from which new products spring. Each has a growing economy and a developing middle class that wants the same goods that are present in the United States. In addition, we are still addicted to buying inexpensive merchandise from China and the "raw" materials have to come from somewhere. The easiest way to obtain those goods is to come to the United States and buy them from recyclers and scrap dealers.

Although that would seem to be an expensive proposition; buying a container of scrap, shipping it to China and then separating it into useful parts, nothing could be further from the truth. The containers travel back to China virtually free. The shipping companies have to get the ships and containers back to China, and they would get nothing for an empty one way trip, so they offer deep discount shipping to get something to help cover the cost of fuel.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book from start to finish, it's been a while since I've enjoyed a non-fiction book this much. I read an excerpt a few months ago and it really whetted my appetite, and I wasn't disappointed after reading it. First of all, it's a very readable book, and it's not bogged down by excessive statistics. Of course, just from the nature of the subject, some stats are necessary, but he handles it with a deft touch. In some hands, recycling statistics could be deadly. While he makes it all very interesting, what I especially enjoyed was the way he constantly brought in the human element, with many interesting and informative individuals. It was a constant treat to meet some of the people behind the scenes. I'm not really equipped to analyse his writing style, but I was impressed at how easy (and fun!) it was to read. For me, this is the best type of non-fiction, informative and fun at the same time. Adam Minter hit this one out of the park.
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Format: Hardcover
Way more interesting than I thought it would be! This is globalization and enviromentalism at their complicated intersection. I was vaguely aware of the recycling/reuse industry, but the author put forth an exploration and explanation of in the industry that was far more enlightening than anything I've seen about the subject.

Adam Minter it incredibly well informed, and he's a great writer. He's personally experienced and witnessed the many different pieces of the trash trade, both in America and China, the two principal players in the industry (having grown up in the trade in America and lived in China for the last decade covering it as a journalist).

The best part is that Minter doesn't stand in judgement, either way, of the trash trade. There are pros that are very good and cons that are both bad and very scary ugly, and he is clearly torn in deciding how to feel about it. His thesis is that it's important, however good or ugly it is, and we American would do well to educate ourselves about it. And I couldn't agree more.

I received this book as part of the GoodReads FirstReads program.
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