Average pay for a garbage man or woman

Last updated: May 26, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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With the world becoming more and more industrialized, the population of cities is ever increasing. Thus, the amount of garbage produced on a daily basis has also increased exponentially.

In order to ensure that these cities remain clean and livable, there is a constant need for garbage men and women. These dedicated professionals work to collect and dispose of the trash to keep our cities running smoothly.

If you've ever considered a career in waste management, then you're probably wondering how much garbage men and women get paid. In this article, we'll explore the average salaries and job outlook of garbage collectors in the United States.

What does a garbage man or woman do?

A garbage man or woman is officially known as a refuse and recyclable materials collector, or refuse collector for short. They are responsible for gathering garbage and recyclable materials from homes and businesses. They then bring these materials to a dump, landfill, or recycling center.

A trash collector's job is not an easy one. They work long hours, often in challenging weather conditions. The job may require heavy lifting, as garbage collectors need to lift and empty large trash bins into their trucks. Or, some workers ride on trucks driven by truck drivers that use hydraulic lifts to transfer materials from the can to the truck.

Many trash collectors have to work early morning hours, as this is when most businesses and homes are closed. This allows them to complete their job without disrupting the flow of traffic. In some cases, garbage collectors may need to use special equipment, such as Bobcats or front-end loaders. These workers also need to be comfortable driving large trucks.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), sanitation workers like garbage collectors fall under the category “hand laborers and material movers,” which also includes jobs like:

  • Machine feeders and off bearers

  • Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers

  • Packers and packagers

  • Cleaners of vehicles and equipment

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There are numerous misconceptions about the job of a garbage man or woman. One common misconception is that all they do is drive around and collect garbage. However, these workers also need to be able to operate complex machinery, such as hydraulic lifts. They also need to have a concrete understanding of the city's infrastructure and how the garbage collection system works.

Another common misconception is that garbage collectors only work in the summertime. However, these workers are needed year-round to keep our cities clean. In some areas, garbage collectors may even work overtime during the winter months to ensure that streets and sidewalks are clear of snow and ice.

How much money does a garbage man or woman make?

So, how much do trash collectors earn? Garbage men and women make a national average salary of $40,695 a year, or $17.95 an hour.

The median salary differs slightly depending on the source. Payscale reports a $41,000 annual salary, whereas the BLS reports $39,100.

Now let’s break it down by years of experience because the entry-level salary for a refuse collector differs greatly from someone who has a few years of experience. These estimates include salary, tips, bonuses, and overtime pay:

<1 year of experience: $15.73 an hour

1–4 years of experience: $16.44 an hour

5–9 years of experience: $17.31 an hour

10–19 years of experience: $20.24 an hour

20 > years of experience: $25 an hour

Below is an illustration that shows how the average garbage man or woman’s salary changes over time. The fastest increases in pay come after 10–20 years on the job. Earlier in your career, you can expect smaller salary increases.

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Where do garbage men or women make the most money?

Where you live affects your salary as a refuse collector, with some states offering jobs that pay garbage men or women much more than others. According to the BLS, trash collectors and waste management workers make the most money in these states:

  • Alaska

  • California

  • Connecticut

  • Delaware

  • Illinois

  • Massachusetts

  • New York

  • Oregon

  • Washington

  • Wisconsin

In the states listed above, the average salary for a trash collector is between $44,980–$61,450, which is almost $20,000 higher than the national average.

States like Pennsylvania and Texas only make up to $38,770 a year, and the salaries in states like Kansas and Nevada decrease even more.

However, the story changes a bit in some major cities. States like Florida, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, and South Carolina don’t pay garbage men and women high salaries on average. However, when you take a look at some of their major metropolitan areas, you’ll find higher salaries than in more suburban or rural areas.

More densely populated areas will tend to have more elevated salaries for garbage and recyclables collectors than areas with fewer people.

Garbage collector salary vs. other similar jobs

One question commonly asked is “how much do trashmen make?” as many wonder if it’s enough for the hard work required in this role. In comparison to similar jobs, they do. And with nearly 60,000 garbage collectors currently employed in the United States, it’s clear this profession is booming.

According to the BLS, the mid-range salary for all hand laborers and material movers was $30,490 in May 2020, which is almost $10,000 lower than garbage collectors.

On average, the lowest-paid 10% of workers in related job fields earned less than $22,070, and the highest 10% earned more than $47,590. Refuse and recyclable materials collectors are among the highest paid of the bunch.

When compared to other entry-level jobs, garbage collectors make a lower median salary than flight attendants at $59,050 a year and a higher median salary than receptionists at $31,110 a year.

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There are careers that are similar to garbage collectors in terms of pay and duties, but they may require more education or training. Some of the most common include:

Construction workers: these workers build and repair various structures like roads, bridges, and buildings. The salary for construction workers is around $37,000 a year.

Farmworkers: this grueling profession entails planting, harvesting, and packing crops. Farmworkers make an average salary of $31,000 a year.

Landscapers and groundskeepers: these workers take care of outdoor spaces like parks, gardens, and lawns. The median salary for this job is $35,000 a year.

Pest control workers: these workers help get rid of rodents, insects, and other pests. Pest control workers make an average of $40,000 a year.

While some of these jobs may have comparable salaries to garbage collectors, they may also require more experience or training. For example, most construction workers need to have a high school diploma, and some jobs may require certification.

Similarly, most landscapers need to have a high school diploma, and some jobs may require higher education, while pest control workers typically need to complete on-the-job training.

So, if you’re looking for a job that won’t require a lot of education or experience and pays relatively well, becoming a garbage collector is a good option.

What type of training is needed to become a garbage collector?

If you want to become a garbage collector, you don’t need any formal education or training. However, some employers may prefer that you have a high school diploma or equivalent.

You can learn the necessary skills on the job, and most employers will provide on-the-job training. Some employers may mandate you complete a safety training program.

It's extremely common for garbage collectors to learn the ropes by working with a more experienced colleague. Most states don't have any specific licensing requirements for this profession.

For those in states that do have licensing requirements, they are usually very basic and only apply to commercial garbage truck drivers. Some states require commercial garbage collectors to have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), but this is typically only for those who will be operating a garbage truck.

How can garbage men or women increase their salary?

The best way to increase your salary as a garbage collector is to gain experience and tenure with your employer. You can also try to move to a state or city that pays higher salaries for this occupation.

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Some employers offer their employees an opportunity to advance to management positions, which come with higher salaries. To be eligible for this type of position, you will usually need several years of experience as a garbage collector.

You can also try to get certified as a hazardous materials removal specialist. This certification can help you get jobs that pay higher salaries, as well as jobs with better benefits.

To become fully certified, you need to complete a specialized training program and pass an exam. Once you complete the course and become certified, you will need to renew your certification every three years.

Start a new career as a garbage collector

Garbage collectors play an important role in our society by helping keep our communities clean. The role typically does not require a lot of education or training, and their salaries are relatively good compared to other jobs that don't require experience or special skills. If you're looking for a job with good job security, becoming a garbage collector may be the right choice for you.

If you're ready to make a career change and want to become a garbage collector, the best way to start is to reach out to your local labor department or labor union. They will be able to tell you what the requirements are for becoming a garbage collector in your area. Once you have all the information, you can begin your new career and begin making a difference in your community.

Be sure to check for new postings on the Jobcase job board for garbage collector positions in your area.

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