California Occupational Guides

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Summary Guide for

   Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors in California

May also be called: Front Load Residential or Commercial Drivers; Garbage Collectors; Recycle Drivers; Refuse Truck Drivers; Refuse Truck Operators; Sanitation Laborers; Solid Waste Collectors

What Would I Do?

Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors, also known as garbage, trash or recycle collectors, drive and operate garbage or recycling trucks on assigned routes. They pick up either garbage for dumping at transfer stations and certified landfills, or recyclable materials for deposit at recycling sites. Most Collectors work alone, driving a truck and using the truck's hydraulic lift to pick up and empty trash and recycling bins, cans, carts and big dumpsters. However, there are still Refuse Collectors who lift and dump containers by hand into older style trucks, working alone or teamed with another Collector. The Collectors who deal with recyclables by hand have to sort different recyclable items, such as cans, glass, plastics, and occasionally batteries.

Green Economy: Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors will play an important role in the emerging green economy. Collectors need to know what materials are recyclable, how to identify them, and what to do with them. Some Collectors may also be involved in recycling electronic waste (e-waste) and compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Refuse Collectors who still work in trucks without hydraulic lifts have to manually lift containers weighing between 40 and 100 pounds, or sometimes roll big metal dumpsters that weigh as much as 800 pounds from a business place to the truck. These workers have to get out of their truck frequently and work in various weather conditions. Collectors generally work 8-hour shifts starting at 5 or 6 a.m., though longer shifts are not uncommon. They may also work on holidays or weekends as needed.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Refuse and Recyclable Material Collector may appeal to those who like work that includes dealing with practical, hands-on problems and solutions. Those who enjoy working outside, with machinery, and as part of a team may like this type of work.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

The median wage in 2017 for Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors in California was $49,344 annually, or $23.72 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

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Annual Wages for 2017Low
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Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2017 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
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Typical benefits are vacation and sick leave, retirement plans, and health and life insurance. Some employers may provide uniforms or uniform allowances.

What is the Job Outlook?

Most job openings will be created by the need to replace Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors who retire or leave the field for other reasons. Opportunities may be greater for Collectors with working knowledge of green practices. Green economy activities and technologies may increase the demand for this job; however, like many occupations, employment may be sensitive to fluctuations in the economy.

How Do I Qualify?

Collectors generally learn skills on the job from more experienced workers or their supervisors. Many employers prefer applicants with a high school diploma or GED, but most simply require workers to be at least 18 years old and physically able to perform the work. Collectors must be able to read, write, and speak English well enough to do necessary paperwork and talk to customers. Employers may prefer workers with prior truck driving experience. Collectors need physical strength, agility, and the ability to lift and carry up to 100 pounds; but the use of trucks with hydraulic lifts has eliminated this physical requirement at some companies.

Collectors who drive the trucks must have a valid California Commercial Class B Driver License or better, and have a good driving record. A medical exam is also part of the requirement to obtain a Commercial Driver License. Drivers must take bi-annual medical exams to keep their license. However, under certain circumstances, operators may be required to take a medical exam more often. Most employers also give pre-employment medical exams and sometimes may require drug testing prior to employment. Random drug and alcohol testing may also be required. Refuse Collector on-the-job training is generally two weeks to a month long. Knowledge concerning the safe handling of hazardous materials is a plus for job seekers. Once hired, many firms give health and safety training as part of their orientation.

Finding a Job

The best way to find a job in this occupation is by applying directly to the employer. If the job is covered by a union contract, application to the appropriate union hall may be necessary. Classified ads and the Internet may provide additional hiring opportunities. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

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Learn More About Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors