A refuse collector is a waste management professional who follows a set route to collect refuse and recycling for processing and disposal. Also known as garbage or trash collectors, refuse collectors are an important part of the waste management community, connecting customers of waste management agencies with a way to remove refuse to dumps and transfer stations. No special educational requirements are needed to work as a refuse collector, although a certification such as a valid driver's license may be required.
Refuse collectors can work alone or in teams, depending on the equipment available. Some waste management companies use automated trucks which can be handled by a single driver who uses a hydraulic lift to pick up trash and recycling bins for emptying into the truck's hopper. Other trucks are not automated, requiring a team of at least two, with a driver and someone who picks up and empties refuse containers.
A refuse collector needs to be physically fit, as he or she needs to haul large containers of garbage and recycling. With older trucks, it is necessary to be able to lift the containers quite high to get the refuse into the truck. Refuse collectors who drive trucks also need to be competent drivers, and very watchful of surrounding traffic and hazards. Traditionally, refuse is collected in the mornings, often starting quite early, and it helps to be the sort of person who enjoys being up in the mornings.
Refuse collecting is a surprisingly hazardous job. A refuse collector is at risk of being injured by a garbage truck or by a driver who is not paying attention, and these professionals are also exposed to hazards occupationally, such as contaminated needles which have not been disposed of properly, dangerous chemicals, and broken glass. While refuse collection may not have the romantic associations that other infamously hazardous occupations like mining and fishing do, it often makes the top 10 list of most dangerous jobs.
Refuse collectors also interact with customers. They may tag refuse containers which have been overloaded or filled with inappropriate materials, and they educate customers about waste disposal and safety. Billing is usually handled at the company office, with bills being sent out by mail, but in some communities, refuse collectors may drop off the bills along their route. A refuse collector can also drop off tags alerting customers to the fact that they are being billed extra due to hazardous waste or overloaded refuse containers.