9 Fabulous Adam Minter Quotes

Adam Minter is an American columnist based out of Asia for the Bloomberg View. Writing for several other large publications to include the Los Angeles Times, BusinessWeek, and the National Geographic, Minter is best known for his book titled, ‘Junkyard Planet.’ This best selling and critically acclaimed book takes a look at the hidden world of global recycling from the United States to China. Here is a look at some of the best documented Adam Minter quotes.

“Recycling is better–I won’t write “good”–for the environment. But without economics–without supply and demand of raw materials–recycling is nothing more than a meaningless exercise in glorifying garbage. No doubt it’s better than throwing something into an incinerator, and worse than fixing something that can be refurbished. It’s what you do if you can’t bear to see something landfilled. Placing a box or a can or a bottle in a recycling bin doesn’t mean you’ve recycled anything, and it doesn’t make you a better, greener person: it just means you’ve outsourced your problem. Sometimes that outsourcing is near home; and sometimes it’s overseas. But wherever it goes, the global market and demand for raw materials is the ultimate arbiter.”

“Fortunately, if that realization leaves you feeling bad, there’s always the alternative: stop buying so much crap in the first place.”

“In fact, Wen’an was the prefect location for the scrap-plastics trace: it was close, but not too close, to Beijing and Tianjin, two massive metropolises with lots of consumers and lots of factories in need of cheap raw materials. Even better, its traditional industry – farming – was disappearing as the region’s once-plentiful streams and wells were run dry by the region’s rampant, unregulated oil industry. So land was plentiful, and so were laborers desperate for a wage to replace the money lost when their fields died. As I hear these stories, I can’t help but wonder: How much of the plastic that Wen’an recycles was made from the oil pumped from Wen’an’s soil? Are all those old plastic bags blowing down Wen’an’s streets ghosts of the fuel that used to run beneath them?”

“Placing a box or a can or a bottle in a recycling bin doesn’t mean you’ve recycled anything, and it doesn’t make you a better, greener person: it just means you’ve outsourced your problem. Sometimes that outsourcing is near home; and sometimes it’s overseas. But wherever it goes, the global market and demand for raw materials is the ultimate arbiter. Fortunately, if that realization leaves you feeling bad, there’s always the alternative: stop buying so much crap in the first place.”

“No surprise, China leads the world in the consumption of steel, copper, aluminum, lead, stainless steel, gold, silver, palladium, zinc, platinum, rare earth compounds, and pretty much anything else labeled “metal.” But China is desperately short of metal resources of its own. For example, in 2012 China produced 5.6 million tons of copper, of which 2.75 million tons was made from scrap. Of that scrap copper, 70 percent was imported, with most coming from the United States. In other words, just under half of China’s copper supply is imported as scrap metal. That’s not a trivial matter: copper, more than any other metal, is essential to modern life. It is the means by which we transmit power and information.”


“So I lean over carefully, and there, piled a foot high against the sides of the metal bin, are beat-up U.S. quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. Next to the filling bin is another bin, a full bin of coins that fell from the pockets of Americans who had more pressing matters than loose change. According to Jack, an average junked U.S. automobile contains $1.65 in loose change when it’s shredded. If that’s right—and from what I see, I believe that it must be—then the 14 million cars scrapped in good years (good for automobile recyclers, at least) in the United States contain within them more than $20 million in cash just waiting to be recovered. Understandably, Huron Valley isn’t interested in revealing just how much money they recover from U.S. automobiles (they have a deal whereby they return the currency to the U.S. Treasury for a percentage of the original value), but David is willing to note that the coin recovery system has “paid for itself.” It occurs to me that Huron Valley has happened upon the most brilliant of businesses: one whose product is money itself! That is, rather than make something that needs to be marketed for money, Huron Valley just makes money.”

“The richer you are, and the more educated you are, the more stuff you will throw away.”

“…[I]f the goal is a realistic sustainable future, then it’s necessary to take a look at what we can do to lengthen the lives of the products we’re going to buy anyway. So my … answer to the question of how we can boost recycling rates is this: Demand that companies start designing products for repair, reuse, and recycling.”

“Take, for example, the super-thin MacBook Air, a wonder of modern design packed into an aluminum case that’s barely bigger than a handful of documents in a manila envelope. At first glance, it would seem to be a sustainable wonder that uses fewer raw materials to do more. But that’s just the gloss; the reality is that the MacBook Air’s thin profile means that its components—memory chips, solid state drive, and processor—are packed so tightly in the case that there’s no room for upgrades (a point driven home by the unusual screws used to hold the case together, thus making home repair even more difficult). Even worse, from the perspective of recycling, the thin profile (and the tightly packed innards) means that the computer is exceptionally difficult to break down into individual components when it comes time to recycle it. In effect, the MacBook Air is a machine built to be shredded, not repaired, upgraded, and reused.”

Adam Minter presents this Ted Talk in Beijing where he shares the truth in China’s growing trash industry. Unrecognized for its true potential, Minter looks at how these innovative countries are creatively handling their waste disposal.

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