When you drop your Diet Coke can or yesterday’s newspaper in the recycling bin, where does it go? Probably halfway around the world—where your trash becomes, literally, someone’s treasure. In Junkyard Planet, Adam Minter offers eye-opening insights into how American refuse drives a vast $250 billion industry that reaches every corner of the globe, with profound effects on both our economy and our environment.
Minter is a veteran journalist with unmatched access to and insight on the waste industry—but even better, he has the explanatory gifts and an eye for detail worthy of a John McPhee or William Langewiesche. He takes us not merely behind the scenes, but into the bowels of giant facilities that process a jumbo jet’s worth of trash every day, as well as the boardrooms of global companies who squeeze billions of dollars from stuff we leave at the curb. Junkyard Planet reveals how “going green” has become a lucrative and internationally influential business—and also how environmentally abusive the process can be at the nitty-gritty end: Minter also shows us the back streets where Chinese workers melt down the circuits of tossed-out cellphones.
Tracing the export of America’s garbage—and the massive profits that China and other rising nations earn from it—Minter spins a tale that’s both engaging, colorful, and troubling. Our profligacy with stuff brings home the decline of the American economy and the ascent of the developing world. Junkyard Planet reveals that Americans might need to learn a smarter way to take out the trash.