Reprise: Wasted 7/7, from the Motor Breakers to the Sample Room

Last week, in my capacity as a guest-blogger on Jim Fallows’ site at the Atlantic, I wrote a series of seven short blog posts, each accompanied by two photos (except for the last) showing a scene from Asia’s scrap recycling trade. My purpose was two-fold: first, I wanted to give Jim’s readers a peak inside of the often monumental scale of the industry as it’s practiced in Asia; and second, I wanted to challenge the oft-held assumption that people who labor in this industry, especially in the developing world, are exploited. That’s less and less the case, especially in China. For example, the metal sorter in the photo can earn in excess of US$500/month, and have her choice of jobs up and down China’s East Coast – a blessed fate that eludes most recent Chinese college graduates.

In any case, I didn’t do a very good job of linking to the Wasted 7/7 posts from Shanghai Scrap. So, in case you didn’t see them (or want an explanation of what the metal sorter in the photo, above, is actually doing), below are the chapters of 7/7 Wasted, in the order that they were intended to be read. Ideally, they take you on a narrated journey through how and where Asia recycles the developed world’s surplus throwaways, to what it all means. The posts are short, and – I’m told! – visually arresting:

  1. The Motor Breakers of China
  2. The Plastics Shredders of China
  3. The Metal Shredders of Toyota
  4. The Metal Sorters of Shanghai
  5. The Metal Sorters North of Mumbai
  6. The Shipbreakers of China
  7. The Chinese Sample Room

As I note above, they really do have an order to them, an intended narrative, that leads to a concluding argument about just who’s being exploited by the globalized waste recyclables trade. And that conclusion is, in part, one of the arguments that I’ll make in Junkyard Planet, my forthcoming book about the global recycling trade, to be published by Bloomsbury Press in 2013.


  1. A book! I’m going to *have* to read this when it comes out.

    But 2013? That’s almost two years away! (I know, I know, you have to have enough time to write it …)

  2. Adam, I’m a frequent reader. Your site is one of the best sites about China. I use it as a resource for my geography and business courses. Your insights into recycling, trade, resources, etc. reveal alot about China and the global cycle of consumption. The articles for the Atlantic were simple and excellent. I hope your book comes out sooner rather than later.

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