It’s time to pay a visit to Junkyard Planet …

On Tuesday, November 12, Bloomsbury Press will publish my first book, Junkyard Planet. To the right, you’ll find links where you can purchase it (including for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and Indie Bound). For those who aren’t sold, you can read excerpts at Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the Atlantic; watch the book trailer; or browse the three months’ worth of ‘Scenes from a Junkyard Planet‘ that I’ve been posting to Shanghai Scrap by clicking here.JunkyardPlanet

There’s going to be a lot more media related to Junkyard Planet in coming days, and I’ll try to keep up-to-date on it with links via my twitter feed and Facebook page. But in just the last couple of pre-publication days there’s been an interview with The Diplomat and – in a change of pace – my New York Post op-ed, “5 things that will blow your mind about the recycling industry.”

In a couple of hours I’m departing for New York and the first legs of a book tour that will take me around the United States, the UK, China, Malaysia, and Singapore. Dates are still being added (and pins that announce “I never knew rubbish until I knew Adam Minter,” are still being printed), but you can find all confirmed appearances on my events page. It’s going to be updated frequently, so make sure to check back. And if you’re in the area of any of the appearances, make sure to stop by and introduce yourself as a reader of Shanghai Scrap. I’d love to meet up.

Finally, at Goodreads we’re holding a US-only drawing to win one of five signed hardcover copies of Junkyard Planet (we’ll be holding international drawings as we draw closer to the January 14, 2014 UK release).

See you on Junkyard Planet!

Scene from a Junkyard Planet: Foreign Trash

During the run-up to the November 12 release of my first book, Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade, I’m posting photos taken during my decade of reporting on the global waste, recycling, refurbishment, and repair trade. Today’s Scene shows what many people in China (including a ranking government official whom I met today) characterize as “foreign trash” and many people outside of China characterize as “dumped” waste. Click to enlarge.DSC04747To be precise, the image, taken two weeks ago at a scrap metal warehouse in Ningbo, China, shows scrap copper wire and tubing freshly unloaded from a shipping container that just arrived from the United States. I am talking about the copper pipe that used to send water flowing through your bathroom; the old telephone wire that once carried the voice of your best friend. Is it trash? This afternoon, in pursuit of an answer to this question I showed the photo to two scrap dealer friends of mine, and asked for a price. The consensus was that it’s worth around $3/lb at current market prices (for the professional scrapper crowd: minus twenty to twenty-five off the COMEX). Now consider the fact that there was 40,000 lb of this stuff in the container. That is to say, somebody sent roughly $120,000 worth of “foreign trash” to China. Of course, it’s entirely possible that somebody, somewhere in America, is willing to dump $120,000 worth of trash on China without any thought of being paid for it; but I’ve yet to find that person. Indeed, according to data from China Customs that I received this afternoon, between January and September of this year, China imported 3.19 mmt of copper scrap worth $10 billion (the US was the leading exporter). Much of it looked like this – that is, it looked like foreign trash being dumped in Ningbo, China. But, of course, it wasn’t trash. It was something much more valuable that – if one can get past how it looks – makes the world a cleaner, greener place.

Scenes from a Junkyard Planet: the de-Bottling Line

During the run-up to the November 12 release of my first book, Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade, I’m posting photos taken during my decade of reporting on the global waste, recycling, refurbishment, and repair trade. Today’s Scene shows Chinese workers emptying the sacks of plastic bottles that we saw in Monday’s Scene. Click to enlarge.DSC04548

This image, taken at the largest plastic bottle recycling facility between Chongqing (arguably the largest city on the planet), and Chengdu (a seriously massive city in its own right), shows workers doing what workers in plastic bottle recycling factories around the world: open bags of bottles and set them running up conveyors, where they’re picked over for trash, and then compacted into large plastic bottle bricks weighing hundred of pounds. From there, the bottles are shredded and sent to be made into new bottles. There’s nothing pretty or mysterious about it – the equipment at this factory is state-of-the-art European-built. But it is effective, profitable, and green while serving as the key link between your recycling bin and a new bottle.

Scenes from a Junkyard Planet: Bottled Up

During the run-up to the November 12 release of my first book, Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade, I’m posting photos taken during my decade of reporting on the global waste, recycling, refurbishment, and repair trade. Today’s Scene shows a Chinese worker wandering among giant sacks containing thousands of plastic bottles. Click to enlarge:

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This image, taken at a plastic bottle recycling facility in China’s Sichuan Province, offers a hint of just how much bottled water, Coke, and green tea is being consumed in China on a daily basis (there isn’t an imported foreign bottle in this photo – or factory). Trust me: it’s a lot. The problem is, despite the fact that everybody knows the volume of recyclable bottles tossed out by Chinese is growing, nobody can say for sure just how much it has grown by. The stats, quite simply, are mostly non-existent; those that exist might as well revert to non-existence. Still, at a time when environmental opposition to plastic bottled water is hurting the product in Europe and the US, China – where few trust the water supplies – is consuming more and more. Needless to say, if you’re drinking bottled Evian, you’re probably drinking bottled Coke, too. In China and other developing countries, low wages make for a strong incentive to recover plastic bottles from the trash, and sell them to people who find value in them – like recyclers. Thus, businesses like this one are thriving across China, supported by the growth in consumer demand for bottled beverages. No consumer demand, no need to recycle.

Junkyard Planet Excerpted at The Atlantic!

I’m thrilled to point readers in the direction of The Atlantic, where a new excerpt of Junkyard Planet is running. This is the third excerpt to run in advance of the November 12 release of Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade, and in many ways it’s the most personal one (see Bloomberg Businessweek and Foreign Affairs for earlier excerpts). There are two reasons. First, this excerpt recounts some of my family’s multi-generation history in the scrap metal trade – a history that threads Junkyard Planet. And second, my first mainstream writing (as opposed to trade writing) about the scrap trade was supported by the Atlantic. Thus, it’s really a treat to see it all come full circle with How China Profits From Our Junk.

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Over the next few months I’ll be making appearances in the US, UK, China, Singapore, and Malaysia to talk about Junkyard Planet. An events page with confirmed dates can be viewed here. Additional dates will be posted in coming weeks (for all five countries). In the meantime, you can pre-order Junkyard Planet from your favorite online bookstore, now – links are available to the lower right of this post.

And finally, Goodreads is hosting a drawing to win one of five signed hardcover copies of the book. Enter here.

Scenes from a Junkyard Planet: A First Book in Three Steps

My first book, Junkyard Planet, showed up in the mail today, 32 months after I signed the contract to write it, back in Feb 2011. Like any book (or so I’m told), it had its difficult moments. But holding it in my hands for the first time, I was able to forget them, if ever so briefly. Then I glanced over at the shelves to my right, and saw the stacks of notebooks that contained the bulk of the reporting for the book … and had an idea for a photo: the Making of Junkyard Planet in three steps – notes, first draft, the book.

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Junkyard Planet will be available November 12 in North America and January 16, 2014 everywhere else.

U.S. Goodreads readers — enter the First Reads Giveaway for a chance to win a signed hardcover copy of the book.

Scenes from a Junkyard Planet: Loose Change Edition

Today’s Scene from a Junkyard Planet – actually two scenes – takes its cue from a story circulating in the French press (thanks to Wee Ling Soh, who tweeted the story in my direction). There are a couple of versions floating around, but here’s a concise edit of the Local’s version of events:

Two Chinese tourists in Paris found themselves in hot water recently with anti-fraud authorities. After paying their €70 hotel bill in €1 coins, police found €3,700 in change in their possession, and arrested them on suspicion of forgery …

For their part, the two told a representative from the Paris Mint that they had acquired the coins from an unusual source back home.

“They said they had bought all the coins from scrapyard dealers in China,” the Paris Mint official told Le Parisien.

“When cars owned by Europeans, and destined for scrap metal, get sent to China to be recycled, the junkyard owners often collect dozens of euro coins from each vehicle,” the source added.

So here’s the deal. In Europe, the US, Japan, and other developed countries, automobile recycling is typically accomplished via giant metal shredders (for a delightfully entertaining take on metal shredders, see Foreign Affairs’ excerpt from my upcoming book on the subject - or just pre-order the book). Once the pieces are reduced to fist-sized chunks, magnets separate out of the steel from everything else – and everything else goes overseas to giant workshops where it’s hand-sorted into component metals before recycling (there are a couple of notable exceptions – one of which is found in my book). In any case, all of that shredded metal contains an often overlooked but nonetheless valuable commodity: all that change which fell out of your pockets and became lodged in the seats.

According to one US-based recycler who would know (his name is Jack, and he’s also in my book), the average US automobile contains $1.65 in change when it arrives at the shredder. And that means, generally, that there’s a LOT of change in the shredded metal that arrives in China every year by the millions of tons. Below, a metal sorting facility in Foshan, Guangdong Province. Metal has just been unloaded onto a conveyor and the women in the photo are employed to pick out the coins from it. And that’s all they’re employed to do. Note, in the below photo, the plastic buckets circled in red: those contain coins.

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And, below, those are the coins. Gnarled and chopped up, but coins nonetheless. Needless to say, there are enough of them in that shredded metal to pay the salaries of these workers (at the time the photo was taken in 2009, the going rate was around $400/month).

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Clearly, some of those coins are re-usable and – predictably – the Chinese scrap processors who collect them are not averse to selling them to people who have their own uses for gnarled up money … like Chinese tourists who don’t mind schlepping them to Europe in suitcases. At Chinese scrap yards, the price of the coins is set at a serious discount to their actual value (and takes into account currency fluctuations – of course). The tourists probably figured they were getting a killer deal. Which, I suppose, they were.

As for the coins that can’t be re-sold for re-use because they’re too gnarled? They’re sent to smelters who recycle them into new metal. Viva la scrap.