Garbage collection is not a routine or menial task. Residents, business owners and others whose occupants or themselves generate trash appreciate the convenience of garbage collectors. Environmental protection and health concerns have created protocols and standards for disposal of various types of refuse. The task of taking away trash also means preserving recyclables and keeping hazards and contaminants away from landfills and potentially storm water or public water supplies. Here, the duties and qualifications of garbage collectors recognize the customer and public service of these workers.

What Does a Garbage Collector Do?

Garbage collectors promote sanitation and environmental protection through proper collection and disposal of waste. The work involves, not only serving customers, but ensuring the equipment that makes collection and disposal possible, is safely and properly operated. These workers summon physical strength and stamina, mechanical skills and knowledge of sanitation and safety rules.

Garbage Collector Job Description for Resume – Responsibilities

  • Drive collection trucks along routes according to schedules
  • Run equipment to hoist containers, dump contents into truck bins and compress materials
  • Deliver materials to and dump them at landfills, collection centers and disposal facilities
  • Report incidents, such as injuries, motor vehicle crashes and mechanical failures to vehicles or equipment
  • Inform dispatchers of hazardous conditions, motor vehicle crashes and delays in materials collection
  • Inspect vehicles and road conditions prior to serving routes
  • Sort recyclables from other refuse as feasible
  • Perform routine maintenance on vehicles, add fuel or oil as needed, and clean truck bodies following use
  • Note for customers why garbage not collected, such as unpaid bills, inclusion of items not permitted for handling or general disposal, or failure to separate recyclables
  • Collect payments from customers

Garbage Collector Required/Essential Skills

Communication. Collectors must constantly communicate with dispatchers. This involves listening for instructions, weather or traffic alerts and other information from the dispatchers. In turn, the dispatchers rely on reports and statements from the garbage collectors to know about reasons for service delays, potential hazards, equipment problems, crashes or injuries. Writing skills are necessary for inspection, maintenance, incident or violation reports that the collector may have to prepare.

Customer Service. Customers may lodge questions or complaints about service, alleged damage from operations or garbage collection policies. The answers require the garbage collector to exercise courteousness, yet clarity. The garbage collector needs to know the contact information of the company, government agency or alternate disposal sites especially for questions about disposal of sharps, cleaning or similar chemicals, oil and large items such as appliances and furniture.

Driving. Skilled garbage collection drivers must be able to turn into and drive on narrow streets, back into and lift heavy receptacles and use all mirrors. Depth perception is necessary for the driver to determine how close the vehicle is to an object or person.

Mechanical. The garbage collector job description includes maintenance and simple repairs to vehicles and collection equipment. Fulfilling these duties requires analysis and diagnosis of mechanical problems, use of tools and knowledge of the operation and mechanics of the equipment.

Becoming a Garbage Collector

The material handling portion of being a garbage collector doesn’t require formal education or certification. Drivers of vehicles over 26,000 lbs (gross weight) must earn and maintain a commercial driver’s license.

Education and Training

Garbage collectors seeking their commercial driver’s license undergo training through driving schools or community college driving programs. Employers and commercial driving schools carefully scrutinize driving records of applicants.

Otherwise, employers will afford new hires orientation on safety procedures and company or department policies. The sessions cover wearing protective gear, operation of equipment, lifting techniques, local waste disposal ordinances and rules and emergency procedures. Hires also receive notices required by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, workers’ compensation laws and other agencies or laws.

According to O*NET, approximately 64 percent of “Refuse and Recycling Collectors” held a high school diploma. Nearly three out of ten did not graduate from high school.

Work Experience

While experience in garbage collection may help employment chances, it normally is not a requirement unless the collector seeks a driving position. More likely, applicants should demonstrate a prior history of employment in some setting.

Where driving experience is preferred or required, candidates can tout previous employment in occupations that involve driving. These may include bus driver and delivery driver for a retailer or supplier.

Work Schedules

Overall, garbage collectors work full-time. The amount of work time is dictated by the number of routes served by the employer. With more routes and customers will come greater time spent on garbage collection. Companies generally have set trash pick-up days for customers in particular areas. Smaller firms may need only one day.

On collection days, shifts might start early in the morning. This allows time for the drivers to deliver trash to landfill or collection centers, which often do not operate beyond afternoons. Also, certain communities might time their route service to avoid traffic congestion from morning travelers. Even on non-collection days, garbage collectors report to perform maintenance on vehicles and equipment.

Career Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth of seven percent among “Refuse and recyclable materials collectors” through 2024. This translates to 9,400 additional positions. As of 2024, the United States had an estimated 131,500.

Job growth for the garbage collection field will prove stronger where populations increase. More residents, business and entities means higher demand for garbage collection services. In cities and towns, governmental sanitation or waste disposal departments employ most of the garbage collectors. For rural areas or in municipalities that contract garbage collection, private firms offer jobs for collectors.


The need for safe, sanitary and environmentally-protected places will sustain the need for garbage collectors. Their work also affords a convenient service for residents, especially in populated or urban areas. To fulfill these roles, a garbage collector must exercise care for motorists, customers and themselves.