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Garbage Collector

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Unemployment Rate

9.4 percent

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It is a hallmark of modern times that instead of dumping our garbage wherever we see fit – spreading disease – we have garbage collectors pick up the trash and take it away from towns and cities to more remote waste-management facilities. Garbage collectors fall into two categories: the driver of the garbage truck and the helper, or “ground man,” who picks up the garbage cans and recyclables. The job can be physically demanding for helpers, since they are picking up many cans of garbage each day in rain, snow, sleet and the summer heat. Garbage collectors also have to keep records of their garbage pickups, use hand signals to communicate with the helper or driver and walk a great deal in neighborhoods where residences are close together.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment in this industry will increase 16.2 percent, or by 21,600 new jobs, from 2012 to 2022. The main drivers of this growth are a rise in population and individual income as well as more people choosing to recycle.


According to the BLS, garbage collectors earned $35,230 in 2012. The highest-paid 10 percent of garbage collectors made $57,760, and the lowest-paid made $18,770. The highest-paying metropolitan areas for these workers are Merced, Calif., New York City and Santa Cruz, Calif.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $44,120
Median $32,930
25th Percentile $23,870


If you’re a helper, the amount of time required for training varies from a few days to a month. If you’re a truck driver, you will need a commercial driver’s license. The trucks garbage collectors operate range from big Dumpster trucks to sideloader trucks, and drivers must know how to operate garbage-compressing equipment. Training for both drivers and helpers happens on the job and is led by more experienced workers.

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Much of the requirements depend on whether you’re a truck driver or helper. John Cali, operations manager of Cali Carting in Kearny, N.J., has more stringent requirements for his truck drivers and helpers because the coverage area is a transportation hub, making trash collector jobs more competitive. Cali says he looks for applicants with three years of experience driving trash collection trucks. For helpers, he prefers applicants who have previous experience collecting trash, but he will consider people with manual labor experience, such as construction laborers. Cali’s company also conducts drug tests and background checks on prospective employees.

“It’s a physically demanding job. Sometimes we hire someone who worked at ShopRite or held a clerk position, and they don’t always make that transition,” Cali says. “From prior experience doing that, it generally doesn’t work out.” More goes into the helper job than simply being physically strong, however. “We want a certain personality. We look for friendliness. They need to be a people person,” Cali says.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility fair Average
Stress Level fair Average
Flexibility fair Average
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Last updated by Casey Quinlan.

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