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Garbage Collection Is Dangerous Work

Garbage collectors have a difficult and dangerous job. Give them a thanks when you see them!

Jill Caren
By Jill Caren
Updated February 8th, 2024

Most Americans do not give thought to the garbage collectors that come be each week to pick up the garbage from their homes. These workers are a critical part of our lives, yet most do not get the thanks they deserve.

They can be called a garbageman, solid waste worker, or even a refuse collector, but mo matter what the name – it is a stinky, hard, and dangerous job.

I still have fond memories of my own garbage man who would wait for my daughter to appear at the window to watch him. He would then do a dance, put our garbage in the truck, and make the rear loader do its thing just to make her laugh. It was then I had a whole new appreciate for them.

Garbage collectors were considered the 7th most dangerous job in America in 2021 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate of fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time workers was 27.9, which is a drop from 2020 when the rate was 33.1.

According to the Resource Recycling, the most common death for garbage collection workers is truck-related.

While this drop is a solid improvement, there is still more work to be done to ensure these critical workers are safe.

garbage collector putting bags in garbage truck
PeopleImages.com via Depositphotos

1. Garbagemen Dangers

There are a lot of dangers that garbage collectors face everyday.

HazMat Exposure

There is an unlimited number of hazardous materials that garbage men can come in contact with. Even though many are not supposed to be thrown in regular garbage, they often are. These exposures might include battery acid, used needles, feces, and urine.

Falling & Heavy Lifting

Garbage collectors work in all weather and have to lift extremely heavy objects. Both of these can lead to falls. Slippery driveways, rain, losing a grip on an object can all cause a fall. This can result in broken bones, sprains, or even permanent damage.

Car Accident

You might think those big trucks will keep them well protected, but garbage truck accident do happen and can be serious. Most trucks will have collectors that hang off the back or sides of a truck to easily get on and off to collect the garbage. These workers are at risk of falling off, getting hit by a car, and more.

Animals

Garbage can have a variety of critters hanging around. From rats to raccoons, there is a real risk to garbageman of getting bit. This can result in a variety of diseases if not treated.

Sharp Objects

One of the largest risks come from sharp and dangerous objects that fill our trash. Knives, glass, and more are frequent injuries garbagemen can receive. Sharp objects that poke of out of bags and are usually very dirty pose a large risk to workers.

2. Why Are Garbagemen So Undervalued?

Society tends to admire, and even worship, those with power, fame, and wealth. The working class are not seen as worth admiring.

There is so many misconceptions about blue-collar workers that add to this lack of value including:

  • Blue collar workers are uneducated or not intelligent
  • They are easy to replace so they are less valuable
  • Their value to our society is not that much
  • They do not want to grow or improve themselves

While, we do not know how these came to be, we do know it needs to be changed.

Imagine a world without garbage collectors. I have seen it and it is not pretty. In a trip to Nairobi in 2019, my first time outside of the US, I was in shock at the mountains of garbage that lie everywhere. Children playing, animals grazing, and people walking past piles and piles of garbage.

I have always appreciated all the blue-collar workers that make my life a better place, but this was truly eye opening.

Without garbage collectors, this could be our reality.

So, the next time you see a garbage person doing their thing, a bottle of water – a small snack – or even just a thank you is well deserved.

Milva_El via Depositphotos

3. Garbagemen Work Hard But Feel a Lack of Meaningfulness

The work is hard – your body will hurt, you will stink, you will fall.

Garbage cans and bags can be incredibly heavy – it is back breaking work. Sadly, according to Career Explorer, which conducts employment surveys, the career happiness is only 2.4 out of 5 for garbagemen.

Garbage collectors rate the meaningfulness of their job at just 2 out of 5 stars, which is sad given how important their job is. This is where we can make a difference. A thank you and acknowledgement that what they are doing is making a difference can go a long way.

It is also one of our top pick jobs for introverts since you will usually only work with 1 other person.

4. Garbage Collector Salaries & Outlook

The industry employs an estimated 146,400 workers and has an expected annual growth of 3% through 2032. The average median pay for garbagemen is $43,540 annually, which is a good wage for those with no experience or lacking education.

But, there are no shortage of garbage collectors making in excess of $100,000 annually.

Take coworkers Noel Molina and Tony Sankar, both were making more than that several years ago in NYC. Both were high school dropouts who were making more than some college graduates. While their stories may be unique, it shows that in some areas these kinds of salaries are possible.

Garbage collectors are also a job that is on the lower end of risk for automation replacement. It is definitely not able to be outsourced either, making it a solid long term job choice.

5. The Secret Perks + Gross Finds

Many workers find the collection of garbage fascinating. Seeing the weird things people throw out is a source of amusement while on the job. Some finds are saved and brought home for personal use or to sell online. Others are just disgusting but are worthy of a chuckle.

Some of the weirdest things that have been found according to Redditors include:

  • 55 gallons of M&Ms
  • World War II helmet
  • Violin in a case (turned out it was pretty valuable)
  • Gallons of urine (from a family that did not want the landlord to know how many people were in the apartment they later found out)
  • Decomposing body
  • Day old donuts (truck drivers called this one a win!)

If these examples are not enough to make you understand what a service these workers do, I do not know what will.

So head outside the next time you see them – and just give them a ‘whatsup – let them know you appreciate them.


Jill Caren is an international SEO consultant and founder of 2Dogs Media. She is also a trainer, journalist, and speaker who helps brands increase their organic search visibility, traffic, and conversions. She is also the co-founder of Blue Collar Brain, a resource for those looking to enter a trade career.

She has been featured on MSN, Wealth of Geeks, Hubspot, SEO Powersuite, and other publications for her work as an SEO and advocate for skilled trades.