Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade
Author: Adam Minter
Publisher: Bloomsbury Press
It’s not often that my friends (outside of the waste and resources industry) are willing to talk about the waste problem, and how we should be doing more to fit the 3Rs into our lives. It’s rarer still for one to actively seek me out to learn about the resources sector and where they can go to read more about it (I point them towards Resource, naturally). But that is exactly what happened to me last Christmas when I was approached by one of my lifelong friends, bursting with enthusiasm to speak to me about a new book called Junkyard Planet.
Originally conceived as an overview of how American automobiles are recycled at their end of life, Adam Minter’s book took on a life of its own whilst being written (find out more in the interview with Minter on p. 52) and has become a book of two strands: a touching memoir of Minter’s upbringing in his family’s scrapyard in Minneapolis (along with his experiences visiting scrapyards in China and the US as a journalist); and an engaging, informative, and fascinating insight into the processes of recycling (and, to some extent, reuse).
Readers are taken on a journey through the vast range of recycling practices and facilities – from a Houston materials recovery facility where ‘one machine, its sensors and air guns, replaces six to 10 manual sorters’, to the Chinese county of Wen’an, where ‘environmental and safety equipment is neither required nor available at the local equipment and chemical dealers’.
Minter highlights, however, that although recycling practices may differ, the end result is the same – recouping value from waste. For me, though, the book serves best as a stark reminder of how valuable the materials are that we in the Western world throw away – and that due to processing (and labour) costs, we’re allowing this precious material, which we will eventually need, to be exported and reused elsewhere.
Minter’s book is a masterful account of the 21st-century scrap metal industry, and its accessibility makes it a ‘must read’ for those both in and out of the industry. Buy it or borrow it, just make sure you read it – it’ll change the way you look at waste.
Read Annie Reece's interview with Adam Minter in Resource 76.