Junkyard Planet – the Paperback.

I’m very pleased to announce that Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade, was released in a paperback edition today, Tuesday April 14. I have a copy sitting beside me right now, and – as usual – Bloomsbury Press has done a terrific job packaging it. Like the hardcover, it contains 24 pages of full-color photos, as well as the original text (with a couple of updates). In other words: it’s the hardcover, only lighter, and a little cheaper!

To celebrate the release, my publisher, Bloomsbury Press, is giving away TEN copies on Goodreads to US readers. To enter, click here [this particular contest has ended, but …]. As for me – I’m giving away two SIGNED copies on Goodreads, in a contest open to Canadian readers. For that one, click here.

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Junkyard Planet, the paperback, is available anywhere you buy books in North America, the UK, and Australia. If you prefer to order online, the retailers in the column at right (usual suspects: Amazon, BN, Indiebound, etc) can take care of it. If you lack access to bookstores and you’re living in a country where Amazon doesn’t deliver, I recommend Book Depository. And if you’re new to the book, click here for a sample of the reviews and a few of the interviews I did during the hardcover release.

Sixteen months on, I remain extremely proud of Junkyard Planet and its impact. For now, thanks to everyone who’s supported Junkyard Planet. It’s been an amazing ride, and I look forward to keeping you updated with plans for the next book.

The actual reason nobody’s interested in stealing your scrap metal, anymore.

On Monday the New York Times ran a very good portrait of a Detroit metal scrapper going about his business, scrounging for metal and seeking places to sell it. Business isn’t what it used to be, the Times tells us, mostly thanks to a spate of law enforcement measures that make it harder to fence scrap – especially copper wire and plumbing – from abandoned buildings. The proof is in the data: Detroit issued 222 warrants for scrap metal theft in 2012. This year, it’s issued “around 25.”

It’s not just Detroit. The UK’s Local Government Association points to the 2013 passage of a Scrap Metal Dealers Act as the reason that there were “only” 40,680 metal thefts in England and Wales in 2014, compared to 59,788 in 2013.  Likewise, last May the US’s National Insurance Crime Bureau [NCIB] revealed that insured metal theft had declined 26% between 2011 and 2013, from 14,676 cases to 10,807 – and it pointed specifically to legislation and law enforcement as the restraining factor.

No doubt, law enforcement has played an important role in restricting the easy options for metal thieves to fence scrap. But I’d argue the more important reason metal theft – especially copper theft – has declined over the last three years is embodied in the chart I’ve pasted below (click to enlarge). It shows the price of copper, dating back to its five year highs in early 2011 – and its precipitous, nearly 50% decline ever since (mostly thanks to falling Chinese demand). The price of scrap copper, including wires pulled from your home’s walls, is based on these prices:

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At those prices, it’s probably still worth scrapping if you’re desperate – like the fellow profiled by the NYT. But for criminals who might have other options (including other options for selling it), the difference between $4/lb copper and $2.50/lb copper is probably big enough to make you think twice about breaking into an abandoned house to pull out its wiring. Continue reading

What Does San Diego Have Against Recycling, Free Enterprise, and the American Way?

For more than a decade, Gary Ries of Mission Hills, California, has spent his spare time earning money by picking recyclable cans and bottles from trash cans owned by the city of San Diego. Under most definitions, this is laudable entrepreneurship and everyone wins: Ries makes a few extra bucks, San Diego trucks a few less pounds of trash to the landfill, and, well, recycling!

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However, according to a report by ABC 10 in San Diego, the city of San Diego doesn’t quite see it that way: “The city of San Diego says that once an item enters a trash can on city property, it becomes property of the city.”

So, rather than laud Ries – or, better yet, just leave him the @#$% alone – the city of San Diego has decided to make him miserable. Last weekend, they twice issued $150 citations against him. And if he doesn’t stop recycling the city’s landfill-bound cans and bottles? The police officer who harassed him the first time around will “arrest him, take him to jail and have his bail set at $5,000.”

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But it gets worse. San Diego isn’t merely concerned that Ries is stealing their garbage. They’re worried about liability if “someone gets hurt digging through the trash,” as well as identity theft (ie, the city is protecting people who might leave bank statements in San Diego’s beach-side garbage cans). Or, in the words of Jose Ysea, spokesman for the city of San Diego Environmental Services Department: “it’s more to protect the residents and the community at large.” Continue reading

The UK is Part of Junkyard Planet

I’ve spent the last ten days in the UK meeting media, and making appearances related to Junkyard Planet. It’s been an absolute thrill, and the reception has been excellent. On Saturday, for example, I was the lucky recipient of two marvelous reviews in the London papers. Writing for the Guardian, Isabel Hilton calls Junkyard Planet a “gripping odyssey around the world’s rubbish mountains and the men and (occasionally) women who mine them and turn them into money.” Meanwhile, over at the Times (subscriber only) Leo Lewis says that, in Junkyard Planet, “the stinking machinery that pulverises, grinds, strips and shreds becomes almost musical.”

Along the way, I gave three talks in the UK: first at the House of Commons, then at Cambridge, and finally – last night – in front of 750 at the Royal Geographical Society. It was a trip – and career – high point, and I’m told that I’ll have streaming video that I can pass along soon. Below, a photo of the crowd a few minutes before I went on stage. I’ll be honest: I was scared to death. But it all turned out so well – so thank you London, and all of the folks who made this trip possible. Viva Junkyard Planet.

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And one from the Q&A after the talk.

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What Really Happens to Your Christmas Tree Lights After You Recycle Them?

As readers of Junkyard Planet know, that’s a question that I’ve been asking since 2011, and my first visit to Shijiao, a small-town in south China that I call the ‘Christmas Tree Light Recycling Capitol of the World.’ The story of Shijiao is about more than just the recycling of Christmas tree lights. In many ways, it tells the story of how and why so much that America recycles goes over seas.

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Today, the day after Christmas, I have a new essay over at Time on the topic of what happens to all of that stuff leftover after Christmas: “Your Christmas Tree Lights Are Headed to China – and Then Back To You.” It’s my first essay for Time, and I’m really pleased with it.

It builds upon what I wrote in Junkyard Planet – and that builds upon a piece that I did for the Atlantic in December 2011, “The Chinese Town That Turns Your Old Christmas Tree Lights Into Slippers.” That story was accompanied by a video I shot of the factory (photographed above), that you can still find here.

On Friday morning, I spoke to Alex Cohen of Take Two on KPCC in Pasadena, California about Christmas light recycling. You can hear that interview here (and an interview about Junkyard Planet that I did with Take Two earlier this month, here).

Finally, and much to my surprise, Walter Nicklin, publisher of the weekly Rappahannock News in Washington, Virginia, published a wonderful Christmas Eve editorial – “O Little Town of … Shijiao?” – that touches on Christmas tree light recycling and some of the themes I explore in Junkyard Planet. I hope you’ll click over and have a look.

Book Touring, and the Relentless Search for the Elusive Land Line

This afternoon I spent some time working on details for what’s going to be the second leg of a Junkyard Planet tour that’ll lead me to the UK. And that got me wondering if it’s going to be anything like the first leg.

The thing is, before this all started, I sort of knew what was to come. Only I didn’t! Of the many surprises on the road, perhaps the most unexpected was the endless, relentless search for telephone land lines from which I could do radio interviews (and I have done a LOT of radio interviews).

Here’s the deal: radio programmers hate cell phones. As we all know, they tend to break up, fade out, or outright cut out at the worst times. So, if a programmer is going to book a guest, they’ll usually require the guest to book a land line. In an age where many of us are dropping our land lines, entirely, this can be difficult. And if you’re an author on tour, traveling between locations, this can occasionally turn into a crisis. Take, for example, the photo, below. It was taken somewhere in the Midwest, at a hotel that I had thought I was booked for. Turns out that I had booked it … for a week in the future. Worse yet, I arrived five minutes before a radio interview that was supposed to patch into my (non-existent) room. Thankfully, a desk clerk took pity and let me do the twenty minute interview on the house phone, while seated in the only spare chair available – a wheelchair. My wife captured the moment.

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The glamour of a book tour.

Of course, it wasn’t all chaos. Mostly, it was maximum fun that ran as smooth as a well-planned road trip (which it was, in many respects).

So: thanks to everyone who came to the book talks. For me, some of the most enjoyable moments involved getting to meet people who’ve been reading Shanghai Scrap over the years, following me on twitter, or keeping up with my Bloomberg work. As a writer, it’s one thing to know that people are reading, but it’s something altogether different, and better, to know the people who are reading. I’m so grateful to have had that chance over the last few weeks, and I’m looking forward to having more chances as we near the 16 January UK release and a book tour that’ll me around London, Singapore, Malaysia, and then back to China (details, as they become available, here).

In the meantime, there’s lots of new media related to Junkyard Planet (and much more to come). A few highlights:

  • The Wall Street Journal published a wonderful, extended review of Junkyard Planet by Erica Greider.
  • Amy Goetzman at MinnPost (a publication to which I occasionally contribute) ran an interview with me that touches on how I got around to writing Junkyard Planet.
  • Anna Maria Tremonti interviewed me for the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s daily radio show, The Current

That last radio appearance is one of my favorites from the last month, in no small part because it sent Junkyard Planet up the best seller rankings in Canada. In fact, as I write this, Junkyard Planet is sitting in the Top 50 at Indigo (next to authors like Stephen King [!] and Donna Tartt [!]), Canada’s leading book retailer, and is back-ordered at Amazon Canada. Thank you, Canada! At least for now, the book is available at both sites for an astonishingly low CDN$13.74 for the hardcover on Indigo, and CDN$11.09 for the Kindle edition. Those are the lowest prices I’ve seen anywhere (and they’ll last so long as Junkyard Planet is in Indigo’s Top 50), so if you’re in Canada, and looking for a trashy holiday gift for that grubber in your life, this is the moment.

Happy holidays to the readers of Shanghai Scrap, and many thanks for helping to make November and December 2013 so unforgettable for me and my family.

A personal note from the Junkyard Planet tour

The North American tour for Junkyard Planet is over, and we’re finally back in Shanghai. The six weeks since the November 12 release have been a whirlwind, and I’m only now beginning to process where we’ve been, and all that’s happened.

As some of you know, my mother passed away suddenly in the midst of this whirlwind. More than anything else that’s happened over the last month, that’s what has been on my mind during the quiet moments on the road. But, for those who might’ve wondered how I could continue the tour during this time, I can only tell you that she would’ve expected it. In fact, she would’ve been the first to volunteer to drive me to the airport. If you were at the reading at Common Good Books in St. Paul on November 15, she was the woman smiling through upturned eyes, front row, center. I won’t forget it.

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