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Refuse Collector: Job Description & Requirements

Learn what it takes to become a refuse collector, including training and licensure requirements. Find out about the employment outlook for this career, as well as some alternative career options.

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Career Definition for a Refuse Collector

A refuse collector primarily picks up trash and recyclables along designated routes through a town or city. They drive garbage or recycling trucks and operate hydraulic lifts to pick up containers. Some refuse collectors must manually deposit trash into garbage trucks that do not have hydraulic equipment. Most refuse collectors work during early morning hours.

A refuse collector might be employed by a private waste disposal company or by city public works departments.

Required Education No formal education; training requirements vary by state
Skills Required Mechanical knowledge, time management, coordination, good physical condition, customer service
Median Salary (2017)* $36,160 (refuse and recyclable material collectors)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 13% (refuse and recyclable material collectors)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education and Training

No college degree is needed to become a refuse collector. In most locations, a commercial driver's license (CDL) is required to drive and operate a garbage truck. Some states require completion of a driving course before issuing a CDL. In some states, hazardous material (HAZMAT) training may be required. Completion of an employer training program, which includes health and safety training as established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), might also be necessary before one can become a refuse collector.

Skills Required

Refuse collectors should have good mechanical, time management and coordination skills. They should be in good physical condition and have the ability to work in various and changing weather conditions. Customer service skills are also important since some refuse collectors might occasionally need to interact with the public.

Career and Economic Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for recyclable material and refuse collectors are expected to increase by 13% between 2016 and 2026. While automation has resulted in a slight decrease in opportunities for refuse collectors, high turnover rates and an increase in recycling practices continue to create opportunities. Refuse and recyclable material collectors accounted for about 136,000 of the 3.9 million workers in hand labor and material moving occupations in the United States in 2017. The BLS reported that the median annual salary for refuse and recyclable material collectors was $36,160 as of May 2017.

Alternative Career Options

Some skills necessary to become a refuse collector will help prepare you for jobs in other areas.

Construction Laborer

Like refuse collectors, construction laborers perform physically demanding work in the outdoors. Although there are no formal education requirements for construction laborers, apprenticeship programs are available. Additionally, construction laborers who work with specific materials, such as asbestos, or with specific equipment may be required to become licensed or certified. According to the BLS, jobs for construction laborers are projected to increase by 12% over the 2016-2026 decade. These workers earned a median annual salary of $34,530 as of May 2017.

Delivery Truck Driver

For those who are interested in operating the refuse truck, but prefer not to handle the refuse, becoming a delivery truck driver may be a good option. Delivery truck drivers may have regular routes where they deliver packages or other cargo, or they may go on varied routes depending on the situation. There is no specific education requirement to become a delivery truck driver, but these drivers must have a driver's license, and they are often trained on the job. The BLS reported that these workers earned a median annual salary of $31,450 as of May 2017. Employment for delivery truck drivers is expected to increase by 7% during the 2016-2026 decade, according to the BLS.

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