Refuse/Recyclable Material Collector  What They Do

Just the Facts

Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors Career Video

Insider Info

dot A trash collector has an important role in keeping a community clean. They collect garbage, and sometimes recycling, from homes and businesses following a scheduled route.

Most garbage collectors are required to drive the garbage truck. The truck is either automated, which means the garbage cans are picked up by hydraulic lifts, or non-automated, which means the garbage is collected by hand. Collectors operate the equipment.

Trash collectors work outdoors regardless of the weather. It is common to start work early in the morning, sometimes as early as 4 a.m. Eight-hour shifts are usual.

Trash collectors find work with municipal government public works departments and private waste removal companies. Private companies may do contract work like a one-time pick-up of waste from a construction site. For this reason, collectors working for private companies may have more variety in their assignments. Many municipal government positions are unionized.

dotSafety is a concern for trash collectors. The streets are a tough place to work. Impatient drivers who try to pass garbage trucks endanger the collectors. Back injuries, cuts and bruises are common among garbage collectors. Health and safety courses should be part of the training for trash collectors. Any prior safety training will be a benefit to job seekers.

dotNon-automated trucks usually require collectors to work in teams with a driver and one or two workers. Sharing the work minimizes the risk of injury. When employers make the switch to automated trucks, the worker or "helper" positions are lost, but other opportunities may be found.

"Increased technology only leads to new job opportunities in our industry. Automated collection requires more maintenance and repairs for specialized job opportunities," says Greg Davis. He is the founder of, a private garbage collection, recycling and demolition company based in Miami Beach, FL.

Curbside recycling is another area of expansion in the industry. "The recycled material is not compacted, needs to be separated, and secondary markets need to be further developed. This growth will lead to job growth in our industry," says Davis.

Davis says that there are opportunities for garbage collectors who want to be their own boss: "My business is focused on a specific market segment. My employees have low turnover after the initial, six-month training phase. Our average employee has been with us for more then five years."

His company may not see a lot of growth due to the downturn in the economy and a decrease in construction. However, he says that skilled drivers will be needed as curbside recycling becomes more common.

"You will have to have trucks that handle either garbage or recyclables. Mixed together, you create a lot of work to separate the two. Or you have more trucks. Either way, more jobs in collection," says Thomas.

"The customer does not make any additional trash with curbside [recycling pick up], but now must have twice as many employees, trucks, and equipment doing the job as last year," says Davis.

dotTrash collectors' work is not directly supervised, so collectors must manage their time well. Any knowledge of mechanics will be a plus. Strength and fitness are important.

"For non-automated applications, the physical requirements are quite demanding," says Thomas. He says that collectors must be able to lift heavy objects for sustained periods of time.

"I have not seen people with disabilities working in the field," says Davis.

In addition to a strong back, he says that collectors should have a good work ethic and driving skills.

The job requires some paperwork. Collectors must be able to read, write and speak well enough to meet the requirements. They may also have to communicate with customers.

Just the Facts

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At a Glance

Gather garbage from homes and businesses

  • Many trash collectors also pick up recycling bins
  • Trash collectors often work early morning shifts, starting at 5 or 6 a.m.
  • You'll need a commercial driver's license