What Does a Refuse Collector Do?

Refuse collectors often pick up recycling materials.
Trash, or refuse, is typically collected and transported to a landfill or other facility.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 March 2014
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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.

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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.

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Discuss this Article

golf07
Post 10

I have no idea how we would get rid of all our garbage if we didn't pay someone to pick it up every week.

It is pretty easy to throw my garbage in the trash, haul it out to the curb and let someone else take care of it.

I also have a recycling bin that gets collected every other week. When they first began the program I didn't think I would fill up the recycling bin very fast, but discovered that there are many things I can recycle instead of throwing in the regular trash can.

We have also used a big refuse dumpster when we were getting ready to move. We had lived in our house for many years and had accumulated a lot of junk.

Once the dumpster was full, all we had to do was call them to come and collect it. When I really stop and think about it, I am thankful for the people who are willing to work at this job every day.

bagley79
Post 9

Working as a refuse collector is not a glamorous job, but it certainly needs to be done. Even though we seem to be more conscious of waste and recycling than we used to be, we still generate a lot of waste that needs to be taken care of.

I know a family who owned their own trash collecting business. I don't know how much the men who drove the trucks and collected the garbage made, but the family who owned the business did quite well.

The men who drove the trucks worked very early in the morning, but they were also off work early in the afternoon.

Now that many companies also offer a recycling program there are additional ways for their company to generate income.

OeKc05
Post 8

@cloudel - I guess it all depends on the personality of the refuse collector. Mine will honk to let me know if there is a problem.

I heard him honk one morning, and I went outside and saw three cats tearing apart my garbage. I apologized, and he gave me time to re-bag the trash so that he could take it. He is very friendly and helpful, and he’s not in any particular hurry.

He honked one day to let me know that he was not allowed to take my old pool chemical containers. He did tell me where to take them, though. I was glad that he let me know instead of just leaving them there with no explanation.

cloudel
Post 7

Refuse collectors will only pick up garbage if it is in bags. If you leave a piece of trash in your can separate from the bagged trash, the collector will not take it. If your trash has been scattered around by some animal, he also will not pick it up.

Raccoons had been getting into my trash a lot. I put my garbage out the night before pick up day, and I often awoke to find the bags ripped and my trash scattered around the area. By the time I got up and found it, the garbage collector had already come and gone, and I was left with a mess.

lighth0se33
Post 6

@wavy58 - Sometimes those dog attacks can be quite serious. My garbage man was attacked by a large dog, and the driver had to pull it off of him. If the second man had not been there, he might have died.

I wasn’t home at the time it happened, but I read about it in the newspaper. The people were throwing away an old dog bed, and though they had put it in a bag, the dog knew what it was, and he wasn’t happy they were getting rid of it.

When the garbage man picked up the bag with the bed in it, a large, muscular dog came out from behind the trash can, growling and staring intently at him. He started to back away slowly, but the dog lunged at him and took him down.

The dog did extensive damage to his arms and face. He recovered, but the owners were held responsible for his hospital bill.

wavy58
Post 5

Another hazard that refuse collectors have to deal with is aggressive dogs. My neighbor has one that tries to bite anyone who comes to the edge of the property, and though it is small, it has really sharp teeth.

I was out in my yard one day when the garbage truck came. I watched the man jump off of it into their driveway. The little yippy dog came running up, hair raised and teeth bared.

He just laughed at the tiny creature, but she latched onto his ankle. He let out a scream and a few choice words while swatting at her with the garbage can.

After that incident, he started carrying around a can of dog repellent spray. It’s basically mace, and it works on any size dog.

jonrss
Post 4

@nextcorrea - So true. I actually worked as a garbage collector for a number of years but I had to retire because I got hurt on the job, hurt pretty badly.

Here is what happened. I was working with a crew that was emptying big industrial garbage containers. There was one building that had a roll off dumpster that was up on a loading dock. After it had been emptied and set back down on the dock it started rolling. No one noticed it at first, but it must have been on an incline or something. Well, long story short, the dumpster rolled off of the loading dock and onto my leg.

My leg was broken pretty badly and it was in a cast for months. I still walk with a limp. This is an injury that I will live with every day for the rest of my life. I may have only been collecting trash, but that job has had more effect on my life than just about any thing else.

nextcorrea
Post 3

People rarely talk about this, but significantly more garbage collectors are hurt and killed on the job than police officers. And yet when a police officer dies in the line of duty their face shows up on the front page of the paper, they are immortalized as a hero and thanked effusively for their service and courage. When was the last time you saw a garbage collectors face on the front cover?

I would argue that the would of waste management is just as important, maybe even more important that crime fighting. It is hard work with low pay and very little respect. When you think about that combined with the very real threat of injury or death the garbage man starts to seem a little more impressive.

I am not trying to rag on cops, they perform an incredible service. But they are not the only heroes out there and they are not the only ones making sacrifices for the good of society. Lets try to remember all the good work that garbage collectors perform and how much risk they put themselves in while doing it.

MrSmirnov
Post 2

When you are preparing your trash for the refuse collector a good idea is to invest in a home refuse compactor. Not only does this squish your garbage down, making it easy for you to move, but it saves the hassles involved with spillage when your refuse collector comes to pick up the items.

We are quite lucky in our neighborhood as we have refuse and recyclable material collectors that come by on the same day, so we don't have to remember a complicated schedule. I know in my friends neighborhood they come at varying times which can be a bit of a pain.

manykitties2
Post 1

Refuse collector jobs are one of the hardest kinds of jobs there are, and I think the people doing this kind of work really earn their keep. Collection of refuse is very important, and I always make sure that I properly organize my trash and recycling so that I don't burden the refuse collectors.

My neighbor is terrible for putting out things that just shouldn't be throw away with the general collection and is always complaining when the garbage collectors won't take his trash. I keep telling him he needs to contact a proper disposal service but he never listens and insists on blaming the city workers for his mistakes.

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