California Occupational Guides

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Detailed 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, and compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Collectors examine their trucks before they begin their routes to make sure they are in safe condition to operate. They communicate with dispatchers about traffic delays, dangerous weather conditions and locations, as well as accidents, vehicle breakdowns, equipment failures, and other operational problems. They may have various reports to complete based on their daily activity. In addition, Collectors also tag garbage and recycling containers to inform customers of problems such as excess garbage or inclusion of unacceptable items.

Tools and Technology
Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors drive and operate various trucks and equipment such as shredder, front-loading, side-loading, and tractor-trailer trucks. They also operate equipment such as lifting arms and packaging compactors. They use two-way radios to talk to dispatchers. Collectors may use mileage logging software such as GPS systems to store data on the routes that they travel.

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).

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Green economy activities and technologies would most likely have an effect on Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors. As the emerging green economy calls for more innovative and environmentally-friendly practices, there will be changes to the work and worker requirements for Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors, such as new tasks, skills, and knowledge. Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Inspect trucks prior to beginning routes to ensure safe operating condition.Operation Monitoring
Refuel trucks and add other necessary fluids, such as oil.Equipment Maintenance
Fill out any needed reports for defective equipment.Critical Thinking
Operate equipment that compresses the collected refuse.Operation and Control
Operate automated or semi-automated hoisting devices that raise refuse bins and dump contents into openings in truck bodies.Control Precision
Communicate with dispatchers concerning delays, unsafe sites, accidents, equipment breakdowns, or other maintenance problems.Oral Expression
Check road or weather conditions to determine how routes will be affected.Deductive Reasoning
Make special pickups of recyclable materials, such as food scraps, used oil, discarded computers, or other electronic items.Selective Attention
Clean trucks and compactor bodies after routes have been completed.Manual Dexterity
Sort items set out for recycling and throw materials into designated truck compartments.Judgment and Decision Making
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

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.

Refuse Collectors usually wear protective clothes that their company provides, but may still get dirty. They will likely encounter odors, dust, and insects from garbage and trash cans. They may also be exposed to diseases as well as dangerous materials including chemicals, hypodermic needles, broken glass, and falling objects. The risk is reduced by health and safety training and the use of masks, gloves, safety vests, safety boots, hard hats, and goggles. Companies are now required through the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to give training in health and safety to their workers before they begin working.

Many Collectors belong to a union such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters or the Operating Engineers.

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?

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors in California is $46,913 annually, or $22.55 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$36,919$46,913$56,621
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

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.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors is expected to grow faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors are expected to increase by 16.9 percent, or 2,600 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
15,40018,0002,60016.93,200
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 260 new job openings per year is expected for Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors, plus an additional 320 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 580 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
260320580
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

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.

Most employers 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.

Licensing

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.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Waste Management and Remediation Service 65.1%
Local Government 15.1%
Employment Services 7.5%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

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 www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors.

  • Garbage Disposal
  • Recycling Pick-Up Services
  • Waste Management

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

With seniority, Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors can promote to refuse route, transfer station, or pick line supervisors. Some Collectors move into trucking and dispatching operations.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors with links to more information.

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Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification53-7081
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors53-7081.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RCE