How to Become a Garbage Collector

Having the garbage collected and taken away is one of society's most needed activities. Garbage collectors need to be physically fit, capable of driving trucks and happy to work long hours, including very early morning or late night shifts. Garbage collection can be from houses in the street, from companies, from industrial sites or from specific places such as hospitals, schools and veterinary clinics. Waste management isn't just about throwing things away anymore - recycling and reuse is now a large component and if you choose this career path will increasingly dominate your skills set.


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    Decide if you have the temperament for collecting garbage. You must be able to lift heavy objects, handle difficult shapes (people throw out anything and everything) and you must be happy to get dirty. Be certain that you are not overly sensitive to smells. Do you mind working outdoors no matter whether it is boiling hot, sleeting rain or a blizzard? Do you mind the early mornings or late nights that might be expected of you? Do you have the temperament to deal with abusive and thoughtless homeowners who expect you to toss their unwanted gutted bathroom fittings into the compactor?
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    Consider the skills you might need to possess. While formal qualifications are not usually necessary and most of your training will be completed on-the-job, you will need certain skills. Such skills might include a truck driving license, ability to drive a forklift, operate compacting equipment, mechanical repairs to devices used on the truck, etc.
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    Find out if there is an age limit. Some places will only employ people aged over 18. If you are a mature-aged worker, you should be able to apply as long as you are physically fit. If you're still at school, speak to a careers counselor about how to apply for a position. If you are already in the employment market, contact your local municipality to find out who it has contracted its garbage collection to. Or it may be as obvious as checking the Yellow Pages for phone numbers. Ring the businesses and ask them if there are any openings. Also ask them what skills are expected. Ask also if they provide on-the-job training in any of these skills.
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    Understand that if you would prefer to be self-employed, contact your local small business association and seek help on setting up a garbage collection service. You may need to specialize in a niche not already serviced, such as industrial waste collection, recycling etc. The more open you are to different concepts of garbage and ways of reusing it, reducing it and recycling it, the more successful your own business is likely to become in this environment-conscious age.
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    Apply for permits if necessary. If you handle biological agents, toxic, hazardous or flammable wastes, you may need special licensing to prove that you have received adequate training in handling these objects. If you are collecting waste from a hospital, medical/veterinary practise or industrial site, this is most likely to be an issue.
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    Go for a job interview with a business,and you may need to sit a physical test. Ask the business what this consists of and consider if you need to ask your doctor any questions about previous ailments or illnesses that might cause problems.
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    Ask your employer what equipment you have to fund yourself, if any. In the main an employer should supply safety equipment but you may be expected to fund some of it yourself. You're up for the whole cost of safety equipment if you run your own business. Such equipment may include steel-capped boots, heavy duty gloves, reflective jackets, hard hats and safety pants.


  • Keep your work clothes separate from your home clothes. Stories abound of the smell of garbage being very difficult to remove from clothing, even after washing. Upon getting home, always undress somewhere like the laundry, leave the clothes there (or wash immediately), shower and put on new clothes. This will prevent the odors from traveling about your home.
  • Salary: this can really vary. Salaries for garbage workers have been increasing over the years, in recognition of their valuable contribution to society and the increasing skills set required. A quick search of the web revealed anything between US$18,000 p.y. to US$65,000. One site said $80,000 in NYC but this probably reflects the fact that it is an almost daily collection. In the UK, the figures are around £11,000 to £30,000, depending on your level. It is likely to be higher if you own and run a garbage collection business but you will have overhead costs, salaries and other expenses to factor in.
  • Don't think that you can't proceed up the ladder in waste management. You can. Maybe starting at the bottom is right for you now but consider courses in waste management (certificates, diplomas etc). Your place of work should be able to provide information. Seek to improve your knowledge and skills actively so that you can be in charge of crews, or part of a waste management planning team or eventually the boss!
  • In many countries, garbage collection is contracted out by municipalities and corporations to private garbage collection businesses. If you do still live in an area where local government employs garbage collectors directly, do not expect this to remain the case all of your career.
  • Do your research if you intend to open your own garbage business. While recycling is today's catch-phrase, if the recycling facilities aren't there and the demand for recycled products slumps, then your business will be hurt. While a lot of initiatives are underway to improve recycling and reusing, a lot of it is still at the policy stage rather than being implemented, so be aware of what your city is doing. Diversify and run several different garbage collection strands to cover all the possibilities. Get a good accountant/financial planner and attorney/lawyer to assist you in planning.


  • Don't even consider this employment if you have back, arm or leg problems or you lack strength. It's a strenuous job that can build a great physique if you're already in good shape but can damage any body suffering from existing problems.
  • This is not an easy job - garbage collectors are very hard working and they go home exhausted.

Things You'll Need

  • Good fitness
  • Stamina
  • Polite attitude
  • Flexibility and foresight about the future direction of waste management

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Categories: Occupations