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Garbage Collector Career Guide

What is a garbage collector?

A garbage collector is an essential figure within society. They work diligently to ensure our communities are sanitary, healthy, and pleasant. While their primary function is evident in their title – collecting garbage – their role extends beyond that. They work to promote hygiene and cleanliness within a community, reduce environmental impact, and enforce laws and regulations of waste management. Their efforts are necessary aids in controlling pollution and maintaining the aesthetics of a community.

Their value to organizations, particularly municipal bodies, waste management companies, and environmental agencies, is substantial. They enable these organizations to manage waste efficiently, meet sanitation standards, and fulfill environmental responsibilities. By doing this demanding but essential job, these individuals contribute to their employers’ sustainability efforts while ensuring we can live and work in clean environments.

Duties and responsibilities

Garbage collectors are primarily responsible for collecting waste from designated routes within a community, be it residential, commercial, or industrial. They manually collect and dump waste from trash bins into their garbage trucks or use a hydraulic lift system. Sorting waste into various categories like recyclables, organic waste, and landfill waste might also be a part of their job. They must also report any issues they notice, like unsorted waste or illegal dumping.

Emptying their garbage truck at designated waste disposal facilities or recycling centers is another routine responsibility. Here, they may operate machinery to help compact or sort the waste. They also clean and perform maintenance tasks on their vehicle to make sure it’s in good working condition. Occasionally, they might participate in special community clean-up events or work on educational activities promoting proper waste disposal practices.

Work environment

The work environment of a garbage collector is unlike typical office roles. Their job primarily involves being outdoors, irrespective of the weather conditions. It can be physically demanding, lifting heavy garbage bins and bags and working on a moving truck. They could also be exposed to unpleasant odors or potentially hazardous materials while doing their work.

The job often requires safety gear such as gloves, boots, and high-visibility clothing to protect against potential injuries or accidents. Safety measures must be strictly adhered to minimize the risk of injuries from sharp objects, toxic chemicals, or heavy machinery. The job can be quite challenging, requiring a high level of physical fitness and resilience.

Typical work hours

Garbage collectors usually have early start times, often beginning their routes in the early morning hours to avoid causing traffic disruptions during peak hours. The working schedule might also include weekends, holidays, or odd hours, depending on the needs of the municipality or waste management company they work for.

The nature of the job is physically demanding; most workers are full-time but work less than 40 hours a week. Overtime is sometimes required to handle increased waste, such as during the holiday season. Some roles might operate on a rotating shift basis because waste collection services are often provided around the clock in larger cities.

How to become a garbage collector

This career guide section outlines the steps to become a garbage collector. The key steps involve obtaining a high school diploma, securing a commercial driver’s license, and getting on-the-job training.

Step 1: Obtain a high school diploma

A high school diploma or equivalent is sufficient education to become a garbage collector in most areas. This level of education provides the basic knowledge useful on the job, such as reading and basic math skills. Hence, completing your high school education or getting a GED is the first step toward entering this profession.

Step 2: Get a commercial driver’s license (CDL)

Next, you’ll need to secure a commercial driver’s license, as most collectors need to operate heavy vehicles. Depending upon the state, getting this license may involve passing a written, physical, and driving test. Enrolling in a driving school that offers CDL training can assist in this effort. Some waste management companies may provide CDL training for prospective employees.

Step 3: Gain physical strength and endurance

Working in this field requires physical strength and endurance. They need to be able to lift heavy objects and spend hours on their feet. Start a fitness routine that includes strength training and cardio workouts to build the required strength and stamina for this job.

Step 4: Apply for jobs

Now that you’ve met the necessary qualifications, you can apply for a garbage collector position. Municipalities and private waste management companies typically post job openings on their websites, and you can also find positions posted here on zengig. Send in your resume and cover letter highlighting your qualifications and physical fitness.

Step 5: Complete on-the-job training

Once hired, you will likely undergo on-the-job training supervised by a seasoned collector. This training will teach you about waste collection procedures, safety protocols, and the use of collection machinery. The duration of this training varies but typically lasts several weeks.

How much do garbage collectors make?

Garbage collector salaries will vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Certain factors like the amount and type of waste being collected, the location of waste disposal facilities, and the type of vehicles used might impact compensation.

Highest paying industries

  • Local Government – $47,340
  • Waste Treatment and Disposal – $46,200
  • Other Support Services – $44,980
  • Rental and Leasing Services – $43,670
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises – $43,380

Highest paying states

  • California – $45,930
  • New Jersey – $44,090
  • Washington – $43,770
  • New York – $43,550
  • Alaska – $42,400

Browse garbage collector salary data by market

Types of garbage collectors

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for garbage collectors. This section highlights the different roles and responsibilities within the waste management industry.

Residential collector

This type of collector primarily focuses on residential areas. Their task is to pick up and remove household waste. They often work for local municipal governments or private waste management companies. Frequently, they operate large-scale refuse collection vehicles and are responsible for driving their assigned routes, ensuring all residential waste bins are emptied promptly and efficiently.

Commercial collector

Commercial collectors’ focus is more varied than residential collectors. They deal with waste generated by businesses and commercial entities. Their role can also involve recycling and compost collection, further enhancing their repertoire. In addition, these professionals may handle larger, more specialized waste items like electronic waste or hazardous materials. They need knowledge about specific skillsets like how to handle, package, and dispose of these types of waste in a safe and environmentally friendly manner.

Landfill operator

Landfill operators manage the vast areas dedicated to refuse disposal. Their tasks include compacting and covering waste, ensuring the landfill complies with regulations, and monitoring the site for any issues relating to safety or pollution. They must be operational in equipment like bulldozers and compactors and typically need a broader understanding of waste management and disposal practices.

Recycling collector

Being a recycling collector is about more than just waste disposal. These garbage collectors specialize in retrieving, sorting, and reusing various recyclable materials like paper, plastic, and metal. Their job is crucial for fostering environmental sustainability and requires them to be familiar with various repurposing techniques and the categorization of recyclables.

Hazardous waste collector

Handling hazardous waste is a specialized job in itself. These professionals deal with the collection and safe disposal of waste that’s potentially harmful to people or the environment, for example, toxic, corrosive, or radioactive materials. This role demands specialized training and adherence to strict safety measures to ensure that they and the public are protected.

Top skills for garbage collectors

This career guide section outlines the skills and abilities that will help you find success as a garbage collector.

Physical stamina and strength

Working in waste management requires being physically fit, as it involves repetitive lifting and moving heavy bins. You’re likely to work in all weather conditions while carrying potentially heavy loads, which underlines the importance of physical strength and stamina.

Attention to safety

An in-depth understanding of safety protocols is key to avoiding injury or accidents. This can range from practicing correct lifting techniques to understanding how to handle hazardous waste materials appropriately.

Customer service skills

Being a garbage collector often involves interaction with clients or members of the public. The ability to communicate clearly and be courteous, even when faced with complaints or issues, is a meaningful asset in carrying out daily duties.

Time management

With collections scheduled at specific times, waste management professionals must be able to organize their routes and complete their pickups promptly and efficiently. Good time management skills ensure no collections are missed and the day’s workload is completed on schedule.


As many waste management routes begin very early in the morning, the ability to self-start and maintain a productive pace throughout the day is vital. Those successful in this field often exhibit a strong work ethic and a high level of self-motivation.

Garbage collector career path options

Starting a career as a garbage collector can be the first step toward higher roles within the waste management industry. As a whole, the industry offers a variety of opportunities for career advancement with increased salary potentials.

Once you’ve acquired substantial experience and gained an understanding of the waste management industry, you could potentially move up the ranks to become a garbage truck driver. This role generally demands more responsibility, including operating heavy machinery, route planning, and staff management.

Many individuals later go on to become a supervisor or a manager, overseeing entire waste collection teams. In these roles, you could be in charge of scheduling, training new staff, maintaining safety standards, and resolving personnel issues. Management roles, in particular, require strong leadership skills and often require additional education, like a degree in environmental science or business administration.

Further down the path, with continuous learning and qualifications, there’s an opportunity to become a waste management consultant. These individuals work on designing and implementing solutions for waste disposal, recycling systems, and environmental conservation.

While waste management has its own attractive progression opportunities, the skills you develop as a collector can also be applied to other industries. Many use this role as a launching point for careers in public health, environmental policy, or city planning, where your firsthand experience with waste handling is invaluable.

Over the years, the garbage collection profession has witnessed various changes and developments shaping the job market and career path. Foremost, the technology adopted in the waste management industry, particularly regarding garbage collection, is rising. These advancements not only streamline operations but also place demands on garbage collectors to possess a certain level of technical skill to operate efficiently. This technological influence makes it clear that this role won’t be restricted to physical labor alone moving forward but will also involve the use of technology.

On another note, there is an increasing effort to promote sustainability in waste management. This trend is driving the industry to explore innovative waste disposal methods. As a result, collectors are now more involved in sorting and recycling efforts. The requirement to be knowledgeable about waste segregation standards has become a significant part of the job.

Employment projections

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of material collectors is projected to grow 6 percent through 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Increased population and associated residential waste will result in demand for these workers.

Garbage collector career tips

Stay in good physical condition

Health and stamina are crucial. This job is physically demanding and involves lifting heavy items, walking, and running. Incorporate strength training and cardio exercises into your routine to help you handle the job’s physical demands.

Master the route

The faster you can complete your route, the more efficient you’ll be. Get to know your route well, including street names, collection points, and any specific house rules at individual locations. It’s your responsibility to ensure you miss no stops, observe collection schedules, and be mindful of any changes, especially those driven by public holidays and inclement weather.

Strict adherence to safety protocols

Given this role’s labor-intensive and potentially hazardous nature, observing safety measures cannot be overstressed. It’s essential that collectors wear the appropriate protective gear, abide by all safety rules and guidelines, and report any hazardous conditions or incidents immediately to their supervisor.

Build a professional network

Like any other profession, a strong professional network can aid your garbage collection career. Joining associations can expose you to new ideas, job openings, continuing education opportunities, and industry trends. Here are a few relevant associations you might consider:

  • Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA)
  • Waste Industry Association (WIA)
  • International Solid Waste Association (ISWA)

Pursue continuous learning and certifications

In this ever-evolving field, staying ahead requires continuous learning. This will not only make your job easier but might open doors to greater opportunities. You can consider:

  • Certification in waste management from environmentally-centric academic bodies
  • Participating in safety and health training programs
  • Attending industry conferences and workshops

Where the garbage collector jobs are

Top employers

  • Waste Management Inc.
  • Republic Services Inc.
  • Advanced Disposal Services
  • Waste Connections Inc.
  • Clean Harbors

Top states

  • Texas
  • California
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • Monster
  • ZipRecruiter
  • CareerBuilder


What are the physical requirements for a garbage collector?

Working in this industry requires physical strength and stamina. It often involves lifting heavy bags and objects and being on your feet most of the day. They often have to work in poor weather conditions, including heat, cold, rain, and snow.

Are there specific skills necessary for garbage collectors?

While no specialized skill is required, having a good awareness of safety procedures, knowledge of equipment operation, and the physical fitness to carry out the tasks are important. Good interpersonal skills can also be beneficial, as you often interact with the public.

What qualifications do I need to be a garbage collector?

Typically, a high school diploma or equivalent is needed to get started in this field. Some municipalities require a CDL if you’ll be operating a waste collection truck. Training on job safety and equipment usage is usually provided by the employer.

Is there a background check for garbage collectors?

Yes, most municipalities or private waste collection companies conduct a background check. The check may include a criminal record review, driving history, and substance abuse testing. The specific background checks conducted can vary depending on the nature of the role and the employer’s requirements.

Is being a garbage collector considered hazardous?

There are risks associated with being a garbage collector, but safety equipment and training help reduce these risks. Hazards may include heavy lifting, exposure to harmful materials, traffic accidents, and extreme weather conditions. However, employers typically prioritize safety and provide necessary training to minimize these risks.

Can I advance as a garbage collector?

Yes, there are opportunities for advancement in this line of work. With experience and demonstrated competence, garbage collectors can move into supervisory or management roles. Some individuals may also advance by specializing in areas like hazardous waste disposal.

Can I work as a garbage collector part-time?

While many positions are full-time, part-time roles can also be available. It mostly depends on the employer and the specific needs of the municipality or private company. It’s best to check with potential employers or look at job postings to find part-time opportunities.

What is a typical work schedule for a garbage collector?

Most people in this profession work an early morning shift, often starting before sunrise to avoid disrupting traffic and to complete work before the heat of the day sets in. It’s common to work a five-day week, but those days can include weekends or holidays when necessary.

Can garbage collectors belong to a union?

Yes, many garbage collectors belong to a union, which can offer a range of benefits, including negotiating wages and benefits, ensuring safe work conditions, and providing a structure for addressing work-related grievances. The specific union may depend on the location and employer.