Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade Hardcover – November 12, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
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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. And, getting the product ready is also inexpensive as labor in developing countries is also cheap.
The author made several points worth pondering. One, if the developing world didn't buy our scrap, it would end up in landfills, filling them more quickly and burying materials that have significant value. In addition, by buying our scrap, these countries are not opening mines to find the raw materials, which saves the environment and cuts greenhouse gas emissions. Imagine how many emissions would come from a copper mine, where 100 tons of material have to be moved to extract one ton of copper ore. Although the methods of stripping wire, or melting plastic in China are hardly ideal, they beat the various alternatives available.
The final take away from this book is that it is best to reduce your purchasing habits, then to reuse items as much as possible, and only then to recycle. It certainly opened my eyes. In addition, I found the book to be wonderful read. The author wrote well, and despite some redundancy, the book is full of important information. I cannot recommend it highly enough!
Junkyard Planet takes the reader through a deep and meticulously researched story about the modern day scrap merchants. Where the metal comes from, how it gets sorted, where it's sold and what happens to it next. We discover what happens to the discarded Christmas tree lights, abandoned cars, TVs, motors, bed frames, wiring, phones and more.
Because the author was at one time the only person in the world reporting on scrap metal in Asia and actually came from a family who owned a junkyard, there are very few people qualified to write such an account. The book mainly covers the US and China and various characters are introduced along the way.
Rather than a quick read, the level of detail is such that it took a while longer to get through. Because I read this as an ebook, the authors' photos were at the end and too difficult to make out.
I'd recently read Adam Minter's book about the secondhand market and saw Junkyard Planet was his first. I found both books equally engaging, and interesting.
Top international reviews
Mixes personal anecdotes and hard facts, well as hard as they can be in an industry without many hard facts.
Following our environmental intentions around the globe and looking at where and how they end up, the author engages us with his passion for the subject and introduces us to the many colourful characters involved in the scrap business.
He poses some interesting questions about both our own sentiments towards recycling and also the aspirational claims of some well known corporations - but for me, perhaps the most surprising thing, was the apparent lack of involvement by organised crime.
An interesting read.