Most of us don’t give too much thought to where our garbage goes after we put it in the trash or recycling bin. Still less do we think about the garbage man, or what the garbage collector’s job entails.
The average garbage man salary is $17.52 an hour, with the bottom end of the range being $10.23 an hour. Drivers, who need a commercial driver’s license, make more than regular refuse workers.
There are some unusual items in the mountains of garbage that Americans generate, but of more interest are the experiences on the job of the garbage collectors themselves. This article will get to the bottom of this insalubrious yet essential job performed wherever large groups of people live together.
Read on to discover heaps of fascinating things!
Call Me the Garbage Man – or Woman
“Sanitation engineer” and “waste management professional” are the official terms, but no one on the ground — the men and women who do the work —call themselves by those fancy names. They don’t mind the straight-talking sound of garbage men and garbage women. It’s what they do and many of them are proud of it.
About one percent of the 120,000 refuse workers hauling the annual 254 million tons of US trash are women, by the way.
One reason for taking pride in the work is because it is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. In the USA, it is the third-riskiest job, outranked by only fishing and logging.
Garbage collectors are seven times more likely to die than firefighters, and three times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than police officers. Numbers vary depending on annual labor statistics.
Dangers include heavy lifting, and needles and broken glass hidden in garbage bags. And if you’re not the driver, jumping on and off the back of the truck is also potentially dangerous. Trash collectors often get hit by cars; their drivers see the truck, but not the garbage man.
That smell. It turns out that women often have stronger stomachs when it comes to handling the worst of the odors, or the water and maggots that are left in the bottom of the truck after dumping the load, for example. Some new guys cannot handle it, and they don’t last long in the job.
The general consensus is that workers get used to the smell to a point where it does not bother them that much in the normal course of work.
In some areas, garbage collection is now automated, and all that is required for curbside pick-up in residential areas is the driver and a suitably equipped truck that picks up the trash bin and empties its contents into the truck.
Even if the collection is still manual, there are garbage trucks fitted with motion-activated cameras to help avoid blindspot hazards when maneuvring the vehicle. Some cabs are fitted with tablets that track houses that have missed collection because the occupants have not put the trash out in time.
Trash collectors can also flag residents for poor garbage etiquette, such as overfilling their trash cans. So, high-tech helps garbage men and women do their work better.
Manual labor is still part of the job in a lot of places, and garbage men and women lift, shift, and toss heavy loads hundreds of times a day. The physical demands of garbage collection cannot be underestimated.
People throw out perfectly good flat-screen TVs, brand new children’s bikes, and other useful items.
Garbage collectors often find new homes for these unwanted items. Other things that end up in the trash but still work if you clean them are vacuum cleaners, and bedside lamps often just need a simple repair to become useful again. As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another’s treasure.
Apart from an inordinate amount of pornographic magazines, other strange finds in the trash include wads of cash, a litter of puppies, revolvers, valuable jewelry, hospital biohazard waste, and homeless people who have fallen asleep in the dumpster at night.
Garbage collectors quite often find raccoons stuck in the plastic trash bag, and free them before tossing the refuse into the truck. Frightened squirrels have been known to scare garbage men, as have rats.
Drugs and Hazardous Waste
Finding drugs in trash cans is a very frequent occurrence for refuse workers and so not at all surprising. Much more serious though is when chemicals are thrown away with regular residential trash.
Such mistakes can be made unknowingly, as was the case in Oakland County where a garbage truck exploded. The chemicals thrown out were part of a kit to make fireworks.
A similar explosion occurred in New York because someone who cooked methamphetamine threw out lots of ingredients. When they mixed together in the dumpster, the chemical reaction resulted in the truck exploding. These and other stories underscore the need for the safe disposal of hazardous waste.
Strong Bags Are Best
Any garbage collector will tell you that hot weather causes cheap trash bags to split open. It leads to a lot of unnecessary soiling of the workers. Some wish that people would double bag in summer and fall, or use a stronger quality trash bag for that overwhelming pile of rotting leaves.
Refuse workers are not afraid of dirt, but they do dislike an unexpected showering.
Pride in Their Work
Despite occasional frustration, the garbage man or woman who cleans up after you are more than likely to express pride in the work they do. Their strong sense of commitment to their job means many people have spent their whole lives doing this work. They dislike it when people think that “anyone could do it.”
One guy even tells the story of how he had always wanted to be a garbage man, ever since he was a kid. He loves his job. And that leaves most of us very grateful that the world doesn’t move to the beat of just one drum, because we’re free to choose something that we love doing.
For inspiration in finding what job might be the best for you, feel free to explore our blog.