November 15th, 2013

Complaining about _Junkyard Planet_

I'll eventually get around to a full review and I expect to finish the book. It's mostly excellent. However, there are these obnoxious moments.

"The American scrap recycling industry is mostly about recycling, not reuse." [Stuff about how scrap recyclers used to cherry pick.] [Stuff about how scrap recyclers who import US scrap still do cherry pick.] "But in countries where waste is divided into one of two categories -- one that's dropped into the recycling bin, and one that's dropped into the trash bin -- that distinction is mostly lost."

"There is no reuse bin in your kitchen, of course, in societies where obsolescence is an obsession and many people simply can't imagine owning an iPhone 4 in an iPhone 5 world. But that doesn't mean the reuse bin doesn't exist. Rather, it just happens to be located in the developing world."

As if we don't live in a world in which Value Village/Savers is a successful, reused household items department store, opening new stores every year. As if we don't live in a world of Half Price Books, ditto. As if we don't live in a world in which Amazon sells used books right along with the new ones, by entrepreneurial third parties of all sizes. As if we don't live in a world in which your iPhone 4 can be recycling for an Apple Store gift certificate, via the Apple website. As if eBay doesn't sell almost everything imaginable used.

Of course, many people in the United States use stuff until it falls apart and breaks so completely that it isn't much use to anyone -- it's not the stuff that's going to be cherry picked here or in the developing world. But some fraction of the cherry-pick-able stuff in the US is, in fact, monetized locally. It seems a little silly to ignore that, especially since the entrepreneurial operations doing that cherry picking are putting a big squeeze on charitable operations doing same, which would fit beautifully into his overall thesis (that people who do this stuff for profit are way, way, way better at it than people who do it for less mercenary reasons).

ETA: "I can't imagine wanting anything -- even scrap -- so bad that I'd transform my public persona so completely for a chance at it."

Okay. So, I really like this author, a lot. I heard him on Fresh Air. The book is mostly incredibly appealing. But this page or so? I fucking hate this guy. Hate. Hate. Hate. This is the _worst_ kind of privilege in existence -- the shock, and a really _judgy_ shocky, a really _othering_ shock that people have to behave in a certain way to succeed in the world. I mean, this nice middle class white boy doesn't, so, OMG, I can't believe someone else does!!! I would never!!

Sure you would. If you were hungry enough.

Fucking asshole.

It's even worse because he's already admitted that when he was younger, and Chinese guys just like the one he is touring with came to his dad's yard to buy stuff, and he _judged his dad_ for selling to them. Makes my skin crawl. It is _not_ like this guy is missing the data to understand the hierarchy in play, or his place in it, and yet he is deploying the I'm-better-than-you/this without even thinking about it.

ETAYA: Seriously? "On the right there are run-down holiday hotels that advertise access to Qingyuan's famous hot springs and -- just past them -- a massive condo development behind signage announcing, in English, BADEN SPA." You're really going to claim, with no irony, that "Baden Spa" is "in English". Hello? *sigh*

ETA Still More: He did finally get around to mentioning the Apple reuse/refurb program, but in really negative way. It'll just encourage people to replace their phones sooner. Gaaah. Apparently no one should buy anything new; we must first completely use up everything that has ever been invented.

One thing that has been bugging me throughout the book is the minimal handling of the paper waste stream. Once upon a time, we recycled mixed paper at the curb but they wouldn't take cardboard. Even back then, pre-internet shopping, I preferred mail order clothing shopping for some things and I had cardboard build up. When it filled the closet I stashed it in, I made a trip to the transfer station. They wouldn't pick up cardboard as part of the combined waste stream in Seattle -- but they wouldn't charge you to drop it off in the cardboard crushers at the transfer station. I was the only person I knew who bothered, and I was Real Happy when I no longer had to (then I moved to a small town in New Hampshire where we had to take everything to the transfer station, but never mind that now).

Now, cardboard is far more valuable than the other elements of the paper stream. Things change.

In any event, the author talks about how a bunch of stuff can only go through the recycle process a few times before the fibers are Done. Also, "many plastics can only survive one turn through the recycling process before having to be "downcycled" into unrecyclable products like plastic lumber for backyard decks." Really? This is a complaint? Hey, that plastic board or wtf is NOT a tree impregnated with horrifying chemicals. That's a good thing. The plastic bottles it used to be had a lifetime measured in weeks or months; once that plastic is part of a deck, it'll be there for years.

And when all those decks start being replaced, well, maybe we'll have come up with a new process for recovering those materials then.