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Junkyard Planet: Travels in the…

Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade (2013)

by Adam Minter

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Who would think that a book about scrap metal recycling could be such a page turner. Minter is a guy who loves junkyards, particularly those that deal in scrap metal. He provides an in-depth tour of junkyards and how they recycle in both the USA and China. In doing so, he provides a better understanding of globalization and the Chinese economy than any other book I have read so far. Most impressive are his portraits of Chinese that have lived the Chinese equivalent of the "American Dream. " ( )
  M_Clark | May 12, 2018 |
This book was enlightening at the very least! At its best, it is a solid argument for why we should all focus on reducing and reusing waste products before we try to recycle. Minter does a great job at weaving together the American and Chinese sides of the scrap business, and thoroughly describes the relationship between the two countries. Not only does he catalog what is recycled, he also digs deep to find just how, exactly, each individual part meets its end (or its new beginning, rather). Minter also summarizes the history of the scrap trade, and this is beneficial as well. Overall, the book forces the consumer to think about what they throw away and what they recycle, knowing where it will go and how it will be processed. There are times throughout the book, however, when Minter's descriptions become somewhat fanciful, and the emotional appeal overpowers the logical one. That being said, most of the book was not like this, and as such, it was an engaging read from cover to cover. ( )
  Muir_Alex | Jul 6, 2015 |
I found this topic very interesting, but what made this book top tier was the additions of the author's background. You could send a New Yorker reporter to China for 6 months and have a very interesting story, but without the background it would be just names and figures. I feel Minter's background really added to the story and allowed him to make insights that only industry insiders would have. I feel he did slightly overshare when talking about his father but as a whole I feel his background made this a much better narrative. He brings a freshness as well as a manner of simplifying global trade that made this a very enjoyable book to read. ( )
  pbirch01 | Sep 2, 2014 |
I assumed Junkyard Planet would be by a journalist who explores what happens to trash with an angle on the environment. Adam Minter is a journalist, but he works for a recycling industry trade magazine, and grew up in a family of junk dealers. He is an insider with a career reporting on recycling. He says up-front the facts and figures are not from environmentalists rather from trade groups. So this is as much a business book as an environmental story. That's a good thing because the recycling industry happens to be extremely interesting, we discover. There's a lot here to absorb, but when you consider everything that is ever made has the possibility of being recycled, the recycling industry is more than just another business, it is the largest of them all, in terms of volume of goods (next to the trash industry).

Minter travels the world, which in the recycling industry mainly means the US, China and India. He meets individual recyclers and compares how they do business. How much things cost, how the items are broken down and separated into component parts. The history of the industry. Minter mostly focuses on steel since that's his background. Cars are the largest-volume item recycled. I was surprised to learn that each junked car has $1.50 in loose change on average stuck under seats etc.. and recyclers have figured out how to automatically separate those coins earning around $20 million a year. The machine is a trade secret.

Minter spends a lot of time in China as he lived there for over 10 years and it's the global hub for recycling. Depressingly polluted as a result, but Minter does as good a job as anyone showing how they are working to move out of poverty and this is just a stage and it's a two-sided coin. Ultimately it's the wealthy consumers, us, who are the problem. Minter continually repeats the mantra "Reduce. Reused. Recycle." The "RRR" means the best solution is first to Reduce consumption. Failing that, Reuse existing items for as long as possible. Then Recycle as a last measure, however recycle is never 100% and as the book shows it produces many other problems. But it's better than making new things from raw materials. Overall good book, it dragged a little in the middle, maybe too many figures, but that also makes it more than a lightweight expose. It has the sort of information everyone in a consumer society should know about, for no other reason to learn how things work and make informed choices. ( )
  Stbalbach | Aug 24, 2014 |
Minter, son of a scrap-man, and one of the few journalists working exclusively on recycling issues, has written a fascinating, inspiring, disturbing, and at times almost magical exploration of the world of recycling.

It's a complex story, and it pulls in stories about globalisation, technology, economics and commodity markets, manufacturing, and culture. I have worked in the sector and know it reasonably well, but was still surprised and amazed in virtually every chapter.

Minter, though clearly an expert, never forgets his casual reader, and consistently positions his story and facts around what an average person would make of them. Explanations are succinct and lucid; priorities are not arranged commercially. His enthusiasm around the sheer act of scrapping itself does set him apart, undeniably, but his excitement is infectious, and I found myself sharing it more often than not.

It's not a long book, but neither is it too short. Minter has delivered something thorough that includes a good deal of interesting history, demonstrating how the very complex market of today came to be.

My only wish is that he had spent a little more time - or whole chpaters, even - on the waste disposal industry, as opposed to just the recycling industry. It is equally fascinating and complex. To be fair, however, that is not is expertise, and is probably more than enough for another book.

Here in the West, we tend to forget about our trash once it goes in the bin - this book is an invigorating, intriguing antidote to that. Recommended. ( )
  patrickgarson | Aug 2, 2014 |
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Book description
This book aims to explain why the hidden world of globalised recycling and reclamation is the most logical (and greenest) endpoint in a long chain. This begins with your home recycling bin or down at the local tip. If what you tip into your recycling bin can be used in some way, the international scrap recycling business will manage to deliver it to the person or company who can do this most profitably. Usually, but not always that profitable option is going to be the most sustainable one.
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"When you drop your Diet Coke can or yesterday's newspaper in the recycling bin, where does it go? Probably halfway around the world, to people and places that clean up what you don't want and turn it into something you can't wait to buy. In Junkyard Planet, Adam Minter-- veteran journalist and son of an American junkyard owner-- travels deeply into a vast, often hidden, multibillion-dollar industry that's transforming our economy and environment. Minter takes us from back-alley Chinese computer recycling operations to recycling factories capable of processing a jumbo jet's worth of trash every day. Along the way, we meet an international cast of characters who have figured out how to squeeze Silicon Valley-scale fortunes from what we all throw away. Junkyard Planet reveals how "going green" usually means making money-- and why that's often the most sustainable choice, even when the recycling methods aren't pretty. With unmatched access to and insight on the waste industry, and the explanatory gifts and an eye for detail worthy of a John McPhee or William Langewiesche, Minter traces the export of America's garbage and the massive profits that China and other rising nations earn from it. What emerges is an engaging, colorful, and sometimes troubling tale of how the way we consume and discard stuff brings home the ascent of a developing world that recognizes value where Americans don't. Junkyard Planet reveals that Americans might need to learn a smarter way to take out the trash"--Dust jacket flap.… (more)

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