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Work in Waste Management

Work in Waste Management

Nobody says they're glamorous, but jobs in waste management hold appeal for some.

"It's a good job, and it's a hard job," says Michael A. Bimonte, first deputy commissioner for the New York City Department of Sanitation, who has risen through the ranks from driving sanitation trucks to his high-level position in city government. "People don't like to see the police department coming or the fire department, but they love seeing the sanitation men come."

Salary and Benefits

Wages vary by geographic area and the refuse and recyclable collector's duties. But on average, the salary for a waste collector can run somewhere between $15,000 to $49,000, according to 2005 data from the US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Among the top paying states is New York, with a mean wage of close to $41,000. Among the lower paying states is South Carolina, with an annual mean wage around $19,000.

Full-time trash and recyclable material collectors usually receive benefits, which typically include paid vacation, health insurance and sick leave. Some employers, such as San Francisco-based Norcal Waste Systems Inc., also offer retirement plans.


Job growth also looks good. According to the US Department of Labor, trash and recyclable material collection jobs should increase almost 17 percent through 2012. Population growth means more waste will be created. A mitigating factor is that trash companies are trying to reduce costs, so they may not necessarily hire many new employees. Instead, current employees may work longer hours.

But trash and recyclable material collectors also vacate those positions as they move up in rank. "We are seeing significant demand in several areas," says Derrick Hamilton, staffing director for Houston-based Waste Management Inc. "The largest single area today is the heavy diesel engine maintenance technician role. We see significant, ongoing opportunity for maintenance technicians in the foreseeable future."


You could choose to seek work with private waste-management companies like Waste Management or with your local city sanitation department. In either case, the basic job requirements include being 18 years of age, possessing a high-school diploma or equivalent and having a valid Class B driver's license, which allows you to drive 15,000-pound vehicles.

Robert Reed, a spokesman for Norcal, cites the following additional requirements for an aspiring waste-management worker:

  • A good driving record.
  • The ability to lift 50 pounds to a height of four feet and the ability to maneuver up to 150 lbs.

Desired personal attributes include:

  • An eagerness to perform hard work.
  • A love of driving.
  • The ability to work in all types of weather.
  • Openness to experiencing various sights, sounds and smells.
  • A willingness to get dirty.
  • The capability of working alone throughout the day.
  • Interest in the environment.
  • Strong interpersonal skills, with added emphasis on customer service.

Training and Advancement

You will be trained in operating and maintaining the garbage trucks, writing reports and simulating an actual collection route, says Bimonte. You may also have periodic training updates, depending on your region; in New York City, for instance, new workers are trained to work in a variety of weather conditions. Within a certain category (i.e., waste haulers), you can advance in five-year increments to the top of your wage scale. You can also apply for higher-level positions.


In New York City, trash and recyclable material collectors have found abandoned babies, corpses and valuables in the trash and have even helped save people from burning houses. It's a potentially dangerous job. "You have to be on your toes," says Bimonte. "We had one worker killed, because someone emptied a container of hydrochloric acid in the trash."

On the other hand, waste management can be rewarding. Companies like Norcal are pushing ahead with environmental programs that involve activities such as taking food scraps from restaurants and composting them for vineyards and organic farms.

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