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What does a Garbage Collector do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A garbage collector performs waste pickup and removal services in residential neighborhoods, public parks, and commercial business centers. He or she controls hydraulic lifting equipment to dump refuse into the back of a garbage truck, and then drives to the appropriate disposal location. A garbage collector may also pick up recyclable goods or yard debris from peoples' homes. Most garbage collectors are employed by municipal government organizations, though some professionals work for private waste management companies that are contracted by city governments.

Garbage collectors who pick up refuse and recycling from neighborhoods often work in pairs. The driver navigates neighborhoods and operates the hydraulic lift, while the other worker steps out at each stop and affixes garbage containers to the arms of the lift. Some garbage trucks are capable of picking up large dumpsters and other waste disposal containers without the intervention of an outside helper. Rather, the driver pulls up to a dumpster, drops the lift, and manipulates levers to pick up and dump the load. At the end of a route, a garbage collector unloads his or her truck at a landfill, recycling plant, compost station, or another designated city location.

In order to perform the job well, a garbage collector typically needs to be in decent physical shape and able to employ good judgment. He or she may need to manually pick up and dump furniture, dead trees, or other unwanted objects that are left by the curb. Before a collector picks up a recycling container, he or she quickly scans the contents and removes inappropriate objects. The collector also judges the container's weight to make sure it is under the limit the lift can handle.

The requirements to become a garbage collector can vary between employers, but most workers hold high school diplomas and receive on-the-job training from experienced workers to develop basic skills. In order to operate a garbage truck, a professional may be required to obtain a commercial driver's license by completing a practical training course and passing a regional exam. Some garbage collectors, especially those who remove waste from medical facilities and industrial plants, need to complete additional training programs to earn hazardous materials handling credentials.

An experienced, successful garbage collector is often rewarded with opportunities for advancement within a municipal organization or private company. Many professionals are able to obtain office jobs, where they manage workers' schedules, sign paychecks, and perform other important administrative duties. In a managerial position, an individual may also be able to help devise more efficient waste management strategies and determine the need for new equipment, trucks, or labor.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Laotionne — On May 17, 2014

Always tip your trash collection person at Christmas. I don't always get the recycling sorted perfectly and sometimes the trash can isn't placed exactly where it should be, but my garbage collectors help me out when they can. I'm pretty sure the gift at the holidays has a lot to do with that.

By Animandel — On May 16, 2014

I remember when our garbage collectors went to the new automated garbage trucks. Before the switch, guys would ride on back of the trucks and hop off to get the garbage cans and empty them into the back of the trucks.

The first week of the change, I returned home from work to find that our garbage had not been collected. When I called the trash collection company to tell them they had overlooked us, I learned that with the automated trucks we have to be more particular about how we place our cans along the curb.

The cans have to be at least three feet from all other objects and the handles have to be positioned away from the truck. Otherwise, the cans will not be emptied.

By Drentel — On May 16, 2014

Garbage removal and disposal has seen significant changes since I was a kid growing up in the country. Back then, we and all our neighbors had the big metal barrels that we put trash in. You would have one burn barrel and one or two other barrels.

The burn barrel was the one where you put the trash that would burn. After you got so much trash in the barrel you would set it afire and let it burn down. The other barrels were for cans and other items that would not burn. When the barrels were filled we would load them onto the truck and carry them to the county dump.

I think burn barrels are all but a thing of the past now. I guess they were not the most environmentally friendly way of disposing of trash, and the occasional fire was also a risk if you were not careful. Yet another reason to appreciate the men and women who take care of our garbage pickup.

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