Every part of the country employs waste management professionals. Heavily industrialized areas and areas experiencing strong economic growth are prime users of waste management professionals. The general condition of a region, its markets for scrap materials and recyclable materials, and other factors affect jobs available.
Political support for the environment and the state of the U.S. economy also has an impact on the number of jobs available at any given time. Most waste-management work hinges on whether new regulations are being passed and whether existing regulations are being enforced. When times are hard, the federal government is less likely to have the funds, manpower, and political nerve to start passing tougher laws and prosecuting violators. During such times, the number of new jobs grows more slowly.
Still, the waste management industry is very well entrenched in this country and promises to continue to employ hundreds of thousands of people in the coming decades. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the population will increase from an estimated 328 million in 2019 to more than 417 million by 2060. If current waste practices continue, the number of jobs available in the industry will certainly increase as well. Spending on waste management has increased in recent years. The public and private sectors will continue to spend billions of dollars on waste management in the coming years. U.S. industry's need to comply with federal, state, and local regulations relating to waste management has created a strong market for those with an expertise in waste management. New strategies for source reduction, recycling, volume reduction, toxicity reduction, treatment, and disposal are needed at the municipal and industrial levels.
If the government is strict about enforcing environmental legislation, private businesses will hire more people to ensure compliance. A 2020 report by the EPA stated that enforcement actions required companies to invest an estimated $4.4 billion in actions and equipment to reduce pollution and protect the environment in fiscal year 2019. That year, combined federal administrative and judicial civil penalties and criminal fines totaled $471.8 million. Professionals who can help companies avoid such fines will indeed be valuable. While these fines are concerned largely with hazardous waste, companies also will invest in developing alternative disposal techniques and waste-reduction plans for nonhazardous solid waste.
The market research group IBISWorld reported that in 2019, the U.S. waste treatment and disposal services industry was a $19 billion business and the waste collection services industry generated $55 billion in revenue. These figures represented increases from $17 billion and $45 billion in 2016, respectively. Demand for waste management services will continue due to increased consumer spending, population growth, privatization and business growth, as well as ongoing interest in recycling. In 2019, there were 2,706 waste treatment and disposal services companies in the United States, with total employment of 57,050, according to IBISWorld. There were 12,383 waste collection services businesses, employing 233,885 people that same year. The waste management and collection companies that have the largest market share are Waste Management Inc. and Republic Services Inc.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that in 2017 (the most recent data available from the EPA in 2020), Americans created about 268 million tons of trash and recycled and composted about 94 million tons of this material. This was an enormous increase from the 15 million tons of trash recycled in 1980, and prevented almost 185 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from being released into the air. Recycling and composting efforts will continue growing and being improved upon in the coming years.
The coronavirus pandemic caused a decline in the U.S. waste collection services industry in 2020, due to business lockdowns and decreased demand predominantly from commercial, industrial, and construction clients. The research group IBISWorld predicted a 6 percent drop in revenue in 2020. The rise in the number of people working from home created increasing demand for collection services for households. Waste managements workers also had to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic, including wearing face masks and maintaining social distance to prevent the spread of the virus. The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 will bolster the economy as businesses and construction activities resume. Post pandemic, steady growth in the waste collection services industry is expected through 2025. As described in the research report, "the volume of municipal solid waste generated in the U.S. is projected to grow in line with the overall population as well as business and construction activity over the next five years."
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reported that there were 427,370 workers in the industry as of May 2018. The largest percentage of workers in the industry are those responsible for collecting and moving trash or operating machines used to process it, including refuse and recycling collectors, who comprise more than 17 percent of all waste management and removal workers. Hazardous materials removal workers make up more than 8 percent.
According to the DOL, refuse and recycled materials collectors will have good job prospects through 2028, with the number of jobs increasing by 8 percent, faster than the average for all jobs. Continued increase in the amount of waste being generated and recycle will create job opportunities for waste collectors.
When it comes to salaries, hazardous materials removal workers earn $22.48 per hour on average ($46,760 per year), according to the DOL, while refuse and recycling material collectors earn $19.42 per hour ($40,390 annually).