Scenes from a Junkyard Planet: A Saigon Re-Roll.

During the run-up to the November 12 release of my first book, Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade, every weekday I’m posting a new photo taken during my decade of reporting on the global waste, recycling, refurbishment, and repair trade. Today’s image is a pictorial reminder that in the green pyramid – reduce, re-use, and recycle – re-using comes before recycling. Click for an enlargement:


When scrap iron and steel heads to the junkyard, it’s cleaned-up and then sold to a steel mill for re-melting. But that’s not the only option. Take, for example, what’s happening in this 2007 image taken at a Saigon scrap yard. The worker to the left is feeding scrap reinforcing bars (used to strengthen concrete in buildings, roads, and bridges) into a furnace (the bars are recovered from demolished buildings across rapidly developing Vietnam). In developed countries, those bars – of various lengths and thicknesses – would be tossed into furnaces and melted into new steel. Here, they’re heated up and then run through a “re-roller” that turns them into new bars of uniform thickness attractive to construction companies (mostly because they’re cheaper than new). It’s hot, dirty work (too hot for me to get much closer for a photo), but it uses less energy than making new reinforcing bars. It’s one way, among many, that developing countries are more efficient – and greener – at processing their throwaways than countries that simply can’t afford to pay people to do this kind of work.

Previous ‘Scenes from a Junkyard Planet’ can be found here.