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  • No Degree Job Spotlight: Sanitation Worker

If you want a job with compensation that isn’t trash, the sanitation industry might be worth looking into (pun intended).  

Society has referred to workers in waste collection as “garbage men”. This name can sometimes minimize the true importance and respect that these hard workers rightfully deserve. Not surprisingly, this can be a fruitful career that serves your community in a meaningful way. Let's get past these social stigmas. Hopefully this information provides you with valuable information to help you determine whether this respectable career is for you. 

It’s important to note that sanitation is a very broad term that encompasses different job types such as, waste collection, septic cleaning, waste management, janitorial work, housekeeping, Etc. Today our focus will be on the waste collection aspect of sanitation.  

What is Waste Collection? 

Different jobs in the waste collection field contribute to the overall goal of keeping the environment clean and safe from hazardous waste. The main jobs include (but not limited to): 

  • Sanitation truck driver and waste collection 
  • Sanitation Truck maintenance and cleaning 
  • Landfill delivery 
  • Separation of recyclable items from non-recyclable items 

Sanitation Truck Driver and Waste Collection 

These are the workers that most people see daily. They drive the trucks throughout the neighborhood and collect the waste from residents and commercial properties. Typically, you will see a truck with 2 people. One drives and the other will quickly jump out and collect the trash. When the trash includes heavier items, the driver will come out and help the person lift the large piece of junk into the hopper.  

It also isn’t out of the norm to see one of the workers riding on the back of the truck as it drives through the neighborhood. This is not safe and is typically frowned upon by management, but this doesn’t stop workers from taking a little joyride on the back from time to time. Workers are given a route and typically ride that same route for months at a time. This helps the workers to become familiar with the residences that they routinely collect waste. You can bet your sanitation worker knows exactly what your favorite adult beverages are! These routes aren’t always your typical 9-5 hours. Many of the times you will see trucks driving about at 1am when the roads are less congested. Also, for those living in areas that have harsh winter months, you can expect sanitation to help with the response. This includes cleaning snow and laying down salt to help prevent dangerous ice.  

Sure, your hands might be cold having to respond to a snowstorm, but you can easily warm them in your cash filled pockets with all the money you would make from overtime. Not a bad tradeoff for helping your city in a time of need! 

Sanitation Truck Maintenance and Cleaning 

Sanitation trucks collect thousands of pounds of waste each day. Waste being thrown in the hopper of the truck and then compressed by a packer blade. At the end of the route the hopper is extremely filthy. Workers in the depo will typically lift the packer blade and use special chemicals to clean the back of the truck (referred to as the Hopper). This is done routinely to prevent potentially hazardous waste from manifesting into the truck. This would be terrible for the environment and the longevity of the truck. It is a messy job but is extremely essential. 

Landfill Delivery 

When trash is collected it must be transported to a landfill. This is one of the aspects of waste collection that most people don’t think about. After all, the waste must be going somewhere, right? Most of the waste is delivered to a local landfill. Landfills are specifically engineered facilities that handle waste that is not burned or recycled. Places like New York City have run out of local landfill spaces due to lack of space. Therefore, some big cities deliver their waste to landfills in other states. 

Separation of Recyclable Items from Non-recyclable Items 

Sometimes sanitation workers are required to separate recyclable items from non-recyclable items. This is necessary because recyclable items aren’t processed at the landfills and need to be separated. Even if you are not considering a career in waste collection, this should encourage you to recycle to not only help the environment but to help your fellow waste collection workers. 


The requirements for waste collection are not strict. Requirements differ from city to city. Applicants must be at least 17 1/2 years old. Prior experience is not needed. The company you work for will provide training so that you can perform the job effectively. The biggest requirement in this career is being physically fit enough to routinely lift heavy items. Lifting and tossing hundreds of bags of waste into the hopper of the truck can be very demanding on the body and takes an extreme amount of physical strength and stamina. 

Driving the sanitation truck will require a CDL driver's license in order to legally be allowed to operate it. 

Workers informed in the waste treatment and disposal facilities will require certain certifications relating to chemical and hazardous waste. The name and requirement of these certifications are completely dependent on the state/city you choose to work in. 

City vs Private 

Most jobs in waste collection are municipal jobs. This means you will be working for a city or local township, you will serve the public. Municipal waste collectors will predominantly collect waste from residential properties. 

Private waste collectors are usually contractors hired by the city or township to handle commercial waste. 

Commercial properties typically have a lot more waste than a typical residential home and sometimes are required to have a private waste collection company to collect their waste. 









Hourly Wage 






Annual Wage 








The true wealth of a trash collector comes from the vast number of opportunities to work overtime. There will never be a shortage of waste. In fact, the need for waste collection is increasing steadily as humans consume more. 


Sanitation as a whole is expected to increase 13% over the next 5 years. 


For those that have experience as a waste collector will have the opportunity to move into a managerial role. Managers are sought after positions because they are compensated well above six figures in many cities and don’t deal with the physically demanding aspect of the job. 


Not many careers can provide a true sense of accomplishment and the feeling of contributing to a greater good. A career in sanitation can absolutely provide this. Some of the best things about a career in waste collection/sanitation: 

  • Providing for your neighborhood and keeping it clean. Sanitation workers usually work and live in the same city. 
  • The physically demanding nature of sanitation coupled with a healthy diet will keep you in great shape. 
  • Many opportunities for overtime can help you reach a six-figure salary quite easily. 
  • Keeping the environment safe from hazardous waste and materials 
  • These jobs tend to be municipal jobs. This usually translates to great health, dental and vision insurance, great 401K and a nice pension. 


  • Waste collection is rated as the 7th most dangerous job. This is due to the constant use of heavy and dangerous machinery such as the packer blade used on the sanitation trucks. 
  • Although overtime is great for the wallet, it can be mentally and physically draining to work so many hours in a week. 
  • Waste collection is a very messy job. If you’re easily disgusted by filth, stenches, and rodents then this job isn’t for you. 
  • Years and years of strenuous physical labor can quickly degrade the body. It’s very important to maintain flexibility and physical dexterity to stay healthy in this career path. 


Working as a waste collector is an extremely valuable and respectable profession. Without these professionals working in sanitation our neighborhoods would be putrid dumps. If you are thinking about a career as a waste collector make sure to check the requirements specific to your city or town. There are usually tests and waiting lists involved in municipal jobs, so make sure to start the process. 

NOW! Good luck on your job search. If you decide to pursue something in waste management, we thank you and appreciate your contribution in keeping our community clean. 


Interested in learning more about the job market and opportunities for non-degree holders? We've got you covered! You can start your job search here or check out more of our blogs that answer your most urgent questions.


Photo by Kzenon via Canva