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Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,197 ratings  ·  207 reviews
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 deep into a vast, often hidden, ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 14th 2015 by Bloomsbury Press (first published November 12th 2013)
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Riku Sayuj

Making The Worst of a Bad Situation

“The typical pictures of poverty mask the fact that the very poor represent resilient entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers.”

~ C. K. Prahalad

Minter presents a well researched but also a sometimes too polished and overly journalistic account of ‘travels in the billion-dollar trash trade.’ Even though this sub-title seems to promise a world-wide whirlwind tour following the trash’s trail, we soon realize that the majority of this drama is going to play
May 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Caroline by: Riku Sayuj
Shelves: ecology, 4-star-reads
I found this to be a wonderfully readable book about global recycling - concentrating mostly on the trade between America and China to explain the machinations of the industry. 'Wonderfully readable' in this instance is of special importance. No one is going to bother to read anything of length about this industry unless it is pretty gripping.... and amazingly - the author cracks it. Born into a family running a scrapyard in the States, and for six years a journalist for the periodicals "Scrap" ...more
I once encountered a pair of supermarket clerks unloading cases of bottled water from their pallet jack to the shelves where the water awaits the public, and I commented to the pair that they must have to put out new cases fairly often, like once a week or so. The pair gave me a look and said they bring out new cases three to four times a day. Astonishingly, so it is with that unsightly pile of scrap facing the reader of Junkyard Planet. Adam Minter is not out to convince you that there’s a ...more
Oct 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
Junkyard Planet: Travels In the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade by Adam Minter

“Junkyard Planet" is a behind-the-scenes look into the trash business. Adam Minter, a journalist who was brought up in the scrap dealing business, takes the reader on a ride that shows how recycling occurs at a global level. Taking advantage of access given to him, Minter travels interviews and explores this surprising business. This insightful 304 page book includes the following fifteen chapters: 1. Making Soup, 2.
Feb 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part memoir, part investigation, this was a fascinating look at the global scrap trade. Where does your recycling go? Read this book and be amazed. Interesting lesson in economics here as well, and why it's sometimes more sensible to ship things overseas than to recycle them closer to home. Market theory and lots of pictures all added up to a very interesting book. But my favorite parts remain Minter's warm memories and stories of his grandmother.

Reduce. Reuse. If the first two are not an option, then recycle. Interesting story of where everything goes--back to China for the most part. I don't why but recycling fascinates me.
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first real job was working for IBM and refurbishing computers - I did that up to 2001. Even then, I struggled with how we could make money refurbishing computers in high wage countries. I found this book fascinating. Not only was it a good overview of the industry, it also showed how an industry and commodity markets work in global trade better than anything I have read previously. It also has the vignette and story style of Rose George book, but in an area that I really wanted to know more. ...more
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The first-ever time I had a look at a scrapyard was when I watched the James Bond film ‘Goldfinger’ a long while ago in Chennai, India. In the movie, Oddjob, who was Goldfinger’s henchman, kills a guy, throws the body in the luggage trunk of his brand new car, drives it to a scrapyard for dumping. I watched with utter fascination as a giant crane lifted the car, put it in a car crushing compactor, and reduced it to a small cubic lump of iron. Then, a giant magnet attached itself to the chunk and ...more
Nov 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who would have thought?? I signed up for this Goodreads giveaway because my county is embroiled in a controversy about a landfill trying to go in just 3 miles from our county seat. Bake sales, garage sales and other money raising events are going on to try to stop it. The lawsuits and accusations (some of them criminal) are flying.

The big issue is just when the local commissioners and judges knew the landfill giants were trying to buy land in our county. And the suspicious accusations that the
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Adam Minter presents a fascinating look into the junk business, primarily scrap metal, and how all the waste in the US has made millions for people in China. I loved the personal story he tells throughout the book. His family was in the scrap metal business in Minnesota for several generations, and while he could have followed in his father's and grandmother's footsteps, Minter chose to write about the subject. His scrap metal assignments in China led to a decade-long sojourn in Shanghai. My ...more
Started reading this after reading on of this book's chapters as a standalone article in a magazine. The chapter was really interesting as was 1 or 2 other chapters in this book. Individually, those chapters were great. Unfortunately there were several hundred other pages of junk that added very little.

Just a fraction of the book was spent on plastic and almost none on paper or other types of scrap/waste. His experience is clearly in scrap metal in China, but I would have appreciated either a
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I expected this one to be a little dry, but it absolutely wasn't - Minter is a great storyteller. The included photographs were definitely a bonus, but almost unnecessary with the careful way everything (and everyone!) is described. He also does a really good job of gently proving over and over that "reduce" is the best option if you're truly trying to be green. I was already very stressed out by the state of our landfills, and the unregulated recycling practices overseas...this book didn't ...more
Joe Slowik
Feb 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing is a bit rambling and repetitive, knocking off that fifth star. But this book offers an unprecedented view into a world few see or realize exists. The truth behind where your trash goes and why will be eye opening for some but transformative for others. On the surface it's a book about our junk, but it is truly a book about incentives.

I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially those of us who do business with China and who make or develop products.
Bree Pearc
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A really interesting read on the recycling industry. Some very good insights and thought provoking material. Well written.
Apr 20, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There were some interesting pieces of information in this book, but it was pretty repetitive and dry in parts.
I found the book immeasurably useful for better understanding of contemporary world, its real inner workings, its shortcomings and threats to it as well as some future perspectives.

I like familiarizing with various industries serving our needs, but whose proceedings are largely under our conscious radar. Now it’s easier to do, since a number of interesting titles were released on, say, funeral business and global floral trade, - huge and complicated and very responsive – businesses, of whose
Jan 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the best book I've read in a long time. I'm really looking forward to the reading his next one (Secondhand). I learned so much from this book, and it was so engaging.
May 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fabulous book. Great background information to add to Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff. Minter has a delightful perspective and he gives the reader the needed perspective for the immensity of used material we have on planet Earth.
Nov 08, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When it comes to environmental sustainability in America the three tenants taught in school are: reduce, reuse, recycle. The last of the three is the most visible and most used option because the culture we live in does not really move toward reducing or reusing. We are a single-use society that loves new things.

As someone who has worked in sustainability I appreciate Adam Minter's Junkyard Planet for laying out the journey of scrap metal. In some ways you could say he plots an ethnography of an
Oriyah Nitkin
Despite my giving this book four stars, of all the books I've read in the past few years, I would recommend this one most widely. Specifically, I think EVERYONE should read this book. Why? Because it's fascinating and important.

As someone who considers herself environmentally minded, this book was an eye opener, introducing me to the logistics and limitations of recycling and other methods of waste disposal. And when I say "eye-opener", I mean WIIIIDE open. I learned some things that never
Dan Connors
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020-books
Where do the millions of tons of recycled goods end up and what is made from them? Where do old cars end up once they no longer can be fixed? How do we keep our landfills from bursting at the seams while recovering valuable materials from our junk?

This fascinating book, by a man who grew up in the scrap metal business, shows an insider's perspective in the amazingly lucrative world of recycling, where a few millionaires gain fortunes while others sift through other people's junk to make a
Dec 08, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book in hopes of learning more about what happens to what we throw in the trash and recycling bins. What I ended up learning was A LOT about the "junk" business, most specifically the scrap metal business. Minter focuses on metal and the supply and demand process that takes our discarded items to China, not the "do the right thing" process. (Because "doing the right thing" means to simply consume less.) He travels the U.S. and China to give very detailed insight about scrap metal, ...more
Angie Reisetter
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
Jason Sp
Apr 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Friends
Adam offers an interesting yet thoughtful insight into the junkyard business. I came across this book when I was searching topics about China culture, and this book caught my attention. Similar to Adam's grandma, my grandma used to be a scrap woman and made a living on it, until now, she still keep the same habit of collecting garbage. Some of my relatives also went into this scrap business later. Therefore, I am very familiar with millions of scrap men and their stories as well across China.

Jun 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We all know that "our shit" gets recycled. Junkyard Planet takes you behind the scenes in the recycle INDUSTRY. It is HUGE. In fact, it's mind-boggling. It goes on under-the-radar in many respects.
Adam Minter takes you matter- of- factly through his family history in the junk business, the American recycling industry all the way to China where unregulated recycling industry is like the wild wild West (or in this case, East). By the time he is through describing the industry in China you will be
Aaron Redman
Oct 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: waste
For some reason in Sustainability we are always exhorting people to know where their products come from-who is your farmer, where is that widget made?-but once they drop their waste in a blue bin they can forget about it. Adam Minter rolls back the curtain on your “recycled” waste and not just to your local transfer station where most stop1) but all the way back to the villages in China where Christmas tree lights are transformed into plastic sandals. With detailed descriptions of giant machines ...more
Apr 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter is readable and informative. His book will educate you on nearly everything you ever wanted to know about the destination of your curbside recyclables and much much more. You will be astounded at how consumer waste has created an interdependence between developing nations and the richest nations. You will learn how strands of Christmas tree lights find other Christmas tree lights, are bound together, bid for, and end up on the other side of the globe where they are ...more
I won this on First Reads Giveaways - thanks Goodreads.

Wow! I keep informed about environmental issues, and read about garbage, consumption, etc. but before I read this book, I had no idea about the scale and complexity of the scrap/recycling business. The author comes at the issue from a fresh perspective, not just that of an environmentalist but as the child of a scrap yard family; which keeps the book from being preachy and judgmental, the good and bad aspects of the industry are laid right
bibliotekker Holman
The author, a journalist who grew up with the trash trade in a Minneapolis junk yard, writes with insider knowledge about the global trash trade. An interesting exploration of a business that has dark corners, but also acts as one of the most environmentally sustainable sources of resources- from metal and paper to items too expensive to fix in one part of the world, shipped to another to be refurbished and reused. As someone who enjoyed digging in trash piles growing up..and still does...this ...more
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting, compelling and unique tour of part of our world you probably know nothing about.

Whether you're a commited "green" or don't bother sorting your trash, you have to read this.

Forget politics, left or right. What's really happening in our world is an incredible use of metals like copper for all our electronics, and steel that is used in everything from plumbing to cars.

The global market in these products is fascinating, and the ramifications are complex.
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Adam Minter is a columnist at Bloomberg Opinion where he writes about China, technology, and the environment. He is the author of Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade, a critically-acclaimed bestselling insider’s account of the hidden world of globalized recycling, and the forthcoming Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale.

Adam has covered the global recycling
“Recycling is better--I won't write "good"--for the environment. But without economics--without supply and demand of raw materials--recycling is nothing more than a meaningless exercise in glorifying garbage. No doubt it's better than throwing something into an incinerator, and worse than fixing something that can be refurbished. It's what you do if you can't bear to see something landfilled. Placing a box or a can or a bottle in a recycling bin doesn't mean you've recycled anything, and it doesn't make you a better, greener person: it just means you've outsourced your problem. Sometimes that outsourcing is near home; and sometimes it's overseas. But wherever it goes, the global market and demand for raw materials is the ultimate arbiter.

Fortunately, if that realization leaves you feeling bad, there's always the alternative: stop buying so much crap in the first place. (269)”
“In fact, Wen'an was the prefect location for the scrap-plastics trace: it was close, but not too close, to Beijing and Tianjin, two massive metropolises with lots of consumers and lots of factories in need of cheap raw materials. Even better, its traditional industry - farming - was disappearing as the region's once-plentiful streams and wells were run dry by the region's rampant, unregulated oil industry. So land was plentiful, and so were laborers desperate for a wage to replace the money lost when their fields died. As I hear these stories, I can't help but wonder: How much of the plastic that Wen'an recycles was made from the oil pumped from Wen'an's soil? Are all those old plastic bags blowing down Wen'an's streets ghosts of the fuel that used to run beneath them?” 3 likes
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