Scenes from a Junkyard Planet: the Indian Metal Sorters

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 Scene shows an Indian factory where shredded automobiles from the US and EU are sorted into their individual metals.


This 2006 image, taken north of Mumbai, was taken in a warehouse next to an aluminum smelter where some of the metal sorted here would be melted. What’s shipped to India and other developing countries is metal that couldn’t be sorted using magnets and other simple means of sortation. In other words: aluminum, copper, zinc, and other metals that don’t stick to magnets. The technology exists to sort copper from aluminum from zinc etc  mechanically, but the low cost of labor in India and other developing countries, plus the extreme demand for raw materials from those same countries, makes export for hand-sorting the more efficient and economical means of recycling. In India, as in China, women are employed almost exclusively for this kind of work, on the belief – repeated to me many times over the years – that they’re more precise than men.

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