Refuse Collectors


Employment Prospects


Approximately 121,330 refuse and recyclable materials collectors are employed in the United States. In the past, refuse collectors were employed almost exclusively by municipalities. Today, refuse collectors may work for private waste haulers that contract with local governments or even specialized firms, such as recycling haulers. Some local governments still operate their own waste-hauling programs, and in these communities, refuse collectors are city employees. But many have found it more cost-effective to contract with private waste haulers who employ their own refuse collectors. Similar jobs may be found at landfills, where workers are needed to assist drivers in dumping collected refuse, or at material recovery facilities (MRFs), where recyclables are taken. MRFs need workers to separate materials, load and unload trucks, and operate equipment such as balers that condense the recyclables into large, dense bales.

Starting Out

To apply for refuse collector jobs, contact your local city government's personnel department or department of sanitation. Employees in these offices may be able to supply information on job openings and local requirements. If you are interested in working for a private disposal firm, contact the firm directly. You can find listings for specific job opportunities through the state employment service, employment Web sites, or newspaper classified ads. Contacting a waste disposal union's local branch and becoming a member may help you land a job when one becomes available in your area.

Advancement Prospects

Opportunities for advancement are usually limited for refuse collectors. Those who work for municipal governments may be able to transfer to better-paying jobs in another department of city government, such as public works. Sometimes advancement means becoming the driver of a refuse truck, rather than a worker who loads and unloads the truck. In larger organizations, refuse collectors who prove to be reliable employees may be promoted to supervisory positions, where they coordinate and direct the activities of other workers. Others may develop a knowledge of recyclables, for example, and help coordinate a waste hauler's recycling business.

Tips for Entry

Talk with refuse collectors about their careers. Ask them for advice on preparing for and entering the field.

Be willing to relocate. It may open more job opportunities. 

Join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to increase your chances of landing a job and receiving fair pay for your work.