Saturday, November 14, 2015

Adam Minter (2013): Junkyard Planet - Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade

What is it about?

This book provides a description and a historical account of the global waste/scrap recycling  and reuse business. It mainly covers the metals recycling business, but also to a degree electronics and plastics. It exceptionally nicely describes the complex mechanics that drive the business at a global scale, based on case study-like personal observations at recycling sites, both legitimate and illegitimate, around the world.

Was it good?

Yes, absolutely! The author is an undisputed expert on the topic (and has a family history in the business), and really masters an engaging style of writing, based on small vignettes from his personal travels across the world covering the trade as an industry journalist. As a result, one gets a vivid and, I would hazard to suggest, deep understanding of why and how the industry works.

The main take-away for me?

A major eye-opener for me was that here one finds a truly global industry - or perhaps better an ecosystem - where everything influences everything: consumer preferences, labor costs, raw material prices, shipping costs, patterns in global trade, macroeconomic cycles, national and international policies and treaties - you name it. Of course, every industry most conceivably constitutes a similar ecosystem, but in the case of this book and the focal industry, this observation really sank in forcefully. Before reading the book, I certainly recognised that recycling, especially metals recycling, is serious business, but I hadn't consciously been aware that it's that serious business with exchange-traded prices driving activities in remote Asian villages and fortunes being made and lost in high-frequency futures trading.

Who should read the book?

Basically everyone - the book really makes an average consumer, regardless of living standards, think about what happens before, after and as a consequence of his/her purchasing and discarding decisions. Moreover, for business scholars with an (eco)systemic bent, here's a case study par excellence.

The book on Junkyard Planet

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