To a Chinese Scrap-Metal Hunter, America's Trash Is Treasure

One businessman’s quest to satisfy China’s insatiable appetite for the stuff Americans throw away
Photograph by Thomas Prior for Bloomberg Businessweek

Just before 8 a.m., Johnson Zeng eases his rented Chevrolet into a space in front of Cash’s Scrap Metal & Iron in St. Louis. He’s in the market to buy scrap metal he can ship to China, and this is the first stop of the day in the middle of a two-and-a-half-week road trip to regular suppliers that started in Albuquerque and will end in Spartanburg, S.C. But that, Zeng says, is nothing. “My last trip with Homer,” he recalls, referring to Homer Lai, the scrap importer in China’s Guangdong Province who provides him with most of his business, “we drove 9,600 miles in 26 days.”

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