Junkyard Planet is an educational and enjoyable read which illuminates the complexities of global recycling. A journalist living in China for a decade and the son of a Midwest scrap dealer, Minter guides the reader from curbside pickup in Houston to scrap yards in Asia that sort the waste of wealthy nations. His skills as a journalist allow him to present market data and historical trends without falling into the trap of data overload. Minter’s description of the history of the scrap-trade, including 19th century telegraph code names for recyclables, is fascinating. The author elucidates the principles behind recycling and its place in global commerce. Rich countries consume products, often manufactured overseas; poorer countries reprocess the waste to continue manufacturing consumables and to supply their own demand for growth.
The most salient part of this book for the average reader is that Minter helps clarify where “Away” is. Often times, in an effort to be ecologically responsible, we toss junk mail, used detergent bottles and soda cans into the single stream recycling bin. It is whisked away and we believe we’ve done a good thing for the planet. When we learn the story of where American waste ends up, however, the question arises: is our carbon footprint any lighter if it means our products are being hand-sorted in unsafe and polluting factories in China? Minter tackles these questions with grace and offers some reassurance that recycling is indeed better for the environment. He says the worst scrap recovery is better than one new copper mine or the cost of a new oil well. He describes how environmental standards have forced recycling overseas to where highly polluting practices continue unabated.
This book is a prime piece of journalism sure to be enjoyed by anyone interested in where our trash goes and why recycling is making the best out of our circumstances. Whether it pays for school uniforms in rural China, earns self-made tycoons millions of dollars, or eases the tinge of guilt some of us feel when we don’t print double sided, recycling is a necessary and beneficial part of the global economy.