It's scrap, not trash, and it's also one of America's top exports
International scrap dealers educate our reporter on the language of our leftovers.
One thing you learn quickly if you hang around scrap merchants is not to refer to the materials in which they trade as "trash" or "garbage" or "junk."Skip to next paragraph
Beijing Bureau Chief
Peter Ford is The Christian Science Monitor’s Beijing Bureau Chief. He covers news and features throughout China and also makes reporting trips to Japan and the Korean peninsula.
Good Reads: From Afghan interpreters, to Internet battles, to submarine history
Rebels in South Sudan state massacre hundreds, hit oil industry
Refugee crisis threatens to topple Jordan's economy
Macedonia's Gruevski looks set for double election win, but... (+video)
How Easter, V-E day may affect Ukraine crisis
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
At a recent convention here of the Bureau of International Recycling (essentially the global forum for scrap dealers) I drew some very sharp looks and a reprimand or two before I got the message.
Of course, the traders are right. If scrap was indeed trash it would not be worth anything. And scrap is certainly worth something. In fact, according to a recent Bank of America-Merrill Lynch report, the global waste and recycling business is worth $1 trillion a year. And it could be worth double that by 2020.
"Where there's muck, there's brass," runs an old Yorkshire adage.
People in the know at the conference told me that a lot of the participants were millionaires at least. But they work in the shadows of the world economy, attracting little attention.
There is one synonym for "scrap" that its devotees more or less allow – "waste." But, as I was reminded by Surendra Borad, an Indian businessman whose company, Gemini, handles more scrap plastic than any other firm, "waste is not waste until it is wasted."
RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about China? Take our quiz.