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Sanitation Worker Duties and Responsibilities

Sanitation workers have a wide range of duties and responsibilities that vary from city to city and employer to employer. Despite these variations, the majority of sanitation workers are expected to complete the following tasks at work:

Collect Waste Sanitation workers travel from neighborhood to neighborhood collecting solid and liquid waste. They may physically collect the trash left for them or use an automated truck. It is also their job to ensure there is no waste left on the street or in natural areas.

Separate Waste Most municipalities allow citizens and businesses to recycle certain types of refuse. Glass, paper, and plastic are often collected and recycled into other items. It is the job of the sanitation worker to ensure recyclables are properly separated from other types of garbage.

Operate a Truck Most sanitation workers use a truck to perform their job. Larger trucks with the ability to lift garbage dumpsters and small trashcans are often used to simplify the job. Sanitation workers are often expected to travel long distances on a daily basis.

Deposit Trash After collecting refuse and separating it from the recyclables, sanitation workers return to the dump. Here, they deposit all the garbage they have collected into a large pit. Some of the garbage is crushed or burned to make room for additional garbage.

Lift Heavy Objects Some types of waste, such as pieces of furniture or large electronic devices, must be disposed of. It is the often the job of sanitation workers to pick up these larger items and place them in the truck. Sanitation workers should be sure to use the proper lifting technique when handling heavy objects.


Sanitation Worker Skills and Qualifications

The skills and qualifications needed to become a sanitation worker depend on the hiring company and city. Most waste collection companies and municipalities require sanitation workers to have at least a high school diploma or GED, but this is not always the case. Employers are most likely to hire sanitation workers with the following skills and abilities:

  • Truck operation – sanitation workers are required to operate large trucks. In most states, individuals must possess a certain type of license before they are allowed to drive garbage trucks. Employers examine these credentials prior to hiring a sanitation worker
  • Knowledge of different waste types – a sanitation worker must be capable of separating normal refuse from recyclables, so they should be aware of the difference. They should also know how to identify potentially harmful substances that should not be disposed of in a landfill
  • Dedication to environmental safety – sanitation workers should understand the impact of waste on the environment and strive to prevent refuse from finding its way into forests, water supplies, and other natural areas
  • Punctuality – sanitation workers are charged with visiting numerous households and businesses on a daily basis. For this reason, they should be able to adhere to a strict schedule and deliver trash to the landfill in a timely manner
  • Physical fitness – as mentioned above, sanitation workers may be tasked with lifting heavy objects, such as furniture and household appliances. They should be capable of doing this without tiring or injuring themselves

Sanitation Worker Education and Training

The training and experience requirements needed to become a sanitation worker vary from employer to employer, but in general sanitation workers do not need a college degree. However, most companies and municipalities only hire individuals with a high school education or GED, but some may overlook this requirement. Sanitation workers must possess the appropriate license if they are required to operate a truck. An extensive amount of on-the-job training is usually provided to sanitation workers before they are allowed to take on a route.


Sanitation Worker Salary and Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), sanitation workers earn a median salary of $25,870, but this figure is strongly influenced by the state they reside in and the number of years of experience they possess. In terms of earnings, sanitation workers in the top 10th percentile earn more than $42,890 annually, while those in the bottom 10th percentile earn less than $19,200 annually. Full-time sanitation workers often receive additional benefits such as health insurance, sick leave, and paid vacation. The employment rate for sanitation workers is expected to increase nearly 7 percent by 2026. This is on par with the national average of 7 percent for all jobs. However, the BLS does state that more sanitation workers may be needed in the future as the population continues to increase and older workers retire.


Helpful Resources

Would you like to become a sanitation worker? Take a look at the resources below to find out if the job is right for you:

The Solid Waste Association of North America – anyone interested in the disposal of solid waste and the recycling industry should consider joining SWANA. With over 10,000 members, SWANA attracts sanitation workers from all walks of life. Its website provides extensive information on safety as well as educational and research opportunities

Garbage Collector Red-Hot Career Guide – finding the right job and employer can be hard, but with help from this book, job seekers can land a job as a sanitation worker with ease. A part of the Red-Hot series of career guides, Garbage Collector contains over 2,500 potential interview questions and effective answers for job seekers

Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash – written by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Edward Hume, Garbology is an interesting and casual book that explores America’s relationship with garbage and recycling. It describes the importance of waste as well as the various ways new entrepreneurs are using waste to build wealth. Garbology is a must-read for anyone interested in the waste management industry