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Refuse Worker Job Description, Career as a Refuse Worker, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training High school plus on-the-job training

Salary Median—$13.87 per hour

Employment Outlook Poor

Definition and Nature of the Work

Refuse workers remove waste material from industrial plants, businesses, and private homes and take it to disposal sites. Some workers, the refuse collectors, can be heard on city streets, often at night. Crews of collectors pick up garbage and put it into trucks with built-in compacting devices. When the trucks are full, the drivers take the refuse away. Incinerator operators, who work at disposal sites, control and maintain the equipment that burns the garbage. They direct other workers who feed the refuse into furnaces and remove the ashes afterward. Landfill operators dump refuse into specially designed pits—often using cranes and other heavy equipment—and cover it with earth.

Refuse workers may be employed by cities or towns or by privately owned disposal services. The private companies may have many trucks and crews that operate in a number of municipalities. Incinerator and landfill operators may work for a single municipality or for a centrally located waste disposal area that provides service to several cities and towns.

Education and Training Requirements

Applicants with high school or vocational school education are preferred. They may also qualify by passing civil service examinations or other oral or written tests. Because refuse workers must be strong, doctors' health certificates are required. Truck drivers must have driver's licenses. Beginners are trained on the job by experienced workers.

Many training requirements are standardized by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Operators are evaluated at least once every three years and receive additional training when new procedures and regulations are developed.

A refuse collector dumps garbage and other waste material into a truck before it is transported to a disposal area. (© David H. Wells/Corbis.)

For crane operators and those working with specialized loads, training and apprenticeship programs are offered by the International Union of Industrial Engineers and the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators. Some employers may require crane operators to be certified, and twelve states have laws requiring crane operators to be licensed.

Getting the Job

Job seekers can apply directly to city or town administrators, state public utility commissions, or private disposal services. Those who intend to apply for government jobs should take civil service examinations.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Refuse collectors usually start as laborers. Later they may become truck drivers or supervisors, usually after passing written tests or civil service examinations. Most incinerator and landfill operators have civil service jobs and must take additional examinations for advancement.

Employment in this field is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all jobs through 2014. Technological advancement in equipment, such as automated storage and retrieval systems and conveyors, has allowed operators to raise productivity and eliminate jobs. However, an increased emphasis on recycling waste materials may create new jobs for refuse workers.

Working Conditions

Refuse workers are outdoors most of the day, lifting heavy containers, driving trucks, and operating heavy equipment, which can be stressful to the body. Although the work can be physically demanding and dangerous, safety procedures have decreased the risk of accident or injury. Refuse workers usually are on the job forty hours a week, although overtime may be required. Many refuse workers belong to labor unions.

Earnings and Benefits

The earnings of refuse workers vary greatly, depending on geographic location and the specific task that is performed. Differences in union scales also affect earnings.

In 2004 the median wage for refuse collectors was $13.87 per hour, with supervisors earning $18.40 per hour. Industrial truck and tractor operators earned $12.78 per hour, and crane and tower operators received $17.99 per hour.

Where to Go for More Information

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
1625 L St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 429-1000

International Brotherhood of Teamsters
25 Louisiana Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20001-2198
(202) 624-6800

Solid Waste Association of North America
PO Box 7219
Silver Spring, MD 20907-7219
(800) 467-9262

The benefits that are available to most refuse workers include paid holidays and vacations, medical and hospital insurance, workers' compensation, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service