13 Things Garbage Collectors Want You to Know

1. We make a better living than you might think, especially for a job that doesn’t usually require a high school diploma. The average annual salary for a garbage-truck driver is almost $38,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, but we can make significantly more. In Chicago and other nearby cities, drivers pull in an average of $51,500 a year. Plus we have great job security: This is one role that can’t be outsourced overseas!

2. That said, the work’s not easy. Those assigned to a traditional rear-loading truck lift an average of 13,000 pounds per day. The Bureau of Labor Statistics rates garbage collecting as the fifth-most-dangerous job in America, behind roofers, airplane pilots, fisherman and loggers.

3. Our biggest danger? Getting hit by passenger cars when we’re stopped. At least nine states have laws requiring drivers to go slower than the posted speed limit when driving by a stopped garbage truck

4. You can also make our lives safer by wrapping your broken glass in newspaper first, to spare us bloody hands. And think twice before throwing out any chemicals. We’ve witnessed entire tucks go up in flames after chance chemical reactions in the back, often thanks to a farmer who dumped toxic pesticides.

5. Yes, there are garbagewomen, though they make up only a tiny percentage of our ranks. We think that’s probably because there just aren’t many women excited about the smell, the maggots, and the other not-so-pleasant aspects of the job.

6. Your trash can be our treasure. If someone is moving out of a nice neighborhood, we watch carefully as we dump. We’ll even grab a bag and rip it open to peek at what’s inside. You never know when you’re going to find a Gucci purse, an old-fashioned watch, or a fur coat.

7. Some of us have even found cash in the trash. Earlier this year, a garbage collector in Augusta, Georgia, pulled $8,500 out of a can! (He returned it to the can’s owner.)

8. Yes, we do judge you by your can. Clean trash can? You’re probably a neat and clean person. We look at restaurants the same way. If their garbage is a disgusting mess, what do you think their kitchen looks like?

9. We’ve clashed with rats, raccoons, and other critters, but squirrels have become the real monsters of the garbage. A squirrel can bite right through the plastic of your bin; then, when we lift the lid, it flies out of there like a bat out of Hades.

10. Our biggest pet peeve: people who park in front of their containers. If we’re driving a one-person truck with an automated arm, we have to get out and move your bin, so your pickup takes twice as long.

11. We’re being timed. Every route is budgeted a certain number of hours for completion; if we come in over that, our bosses question us to make sure we’re not just angling for overtime. There are also cameras and GPS in some of the trucks so we can be monitored at all times.

12. We know sometimes it can be tough to get your cans out early. If you miss the pickup, give us a call and we may be able to swing back and get it. Some towns have a “complaint truck” that does a late run to grab anything that’s left.

13. Please, we would love a drink of water on a 100-degree day. If it’s freezing outside, offer coffee. It’s a simple gesture, but it’ll rocket you onto our list of favorite customers.