open thread – January 14-15, 2022 — Ask a Manager

Hi all! In a comment yesterday I mentioned I was a garbage worker, along with a list of gross stuff I’ve been splashed with at work (including but not limited to: dead rats, garbage juice, rotting clams, and other people’s blood). Apparently I piqued a few folk’s interest in the garbage career route. Marillenbaum asked if I could post a bit more about it on a Friday thread, so…. here we go!

Please feel free to ask me questions, I will answer to the best of my ability.

I work at a transfer station (aka “garbage dump”) in a rural part of California. Garbage/solid waste is quite variable depending on region because of regulatory requirements and local conditions. My facility takes garbage from both commercial trucks and residents dropping off their own trash. We also have dedicated programs for accepting and managing recyclables, compostable green waste, and hazardous wastes. Everything we accept is loaded onto semi trucks and shipped to other facilities for it’s final disposal, whatever that may be: green waste goes to a composting company, garbage to landfills, etc.

Some stuff about me and the job:

– I like my job. In my area, it pays pretty well… it’s a good stable career you can get into with zero education, even with a criminal record. We have stable schedules, some of the best benefits in the county, possibilities for advancement, and salary that’s enough to support a family (although not extravagently). However this depends a lot on where you are – in some places, garbage workers are poorly compensated for difficult, dangerous work.

– I’ve worked in garbage for over a decade. In that time I’ve worked in general labor (mostly sorting recyclables, with a bit of operating heavy equipment, maintenance work, etc), hazardous waste collection and management, internal emergency response, and safety/environmental compliance.

– Garbage is DANGEROUS! It’s the 5th most deadly job in the US, more dangerous than ironwork, firefighting, and power linemen. My facility has a great safety record, but it takes a lot of work to keep it that way.

– It’s a very male-dominated industry… 99% of garbage workers in the US are men. I’m part of the 1%. What’s interesting is how this disparity exists in spite of many organizations actively trying to recruit and retain women. I’ve seen this at play in my own org, even during times when we had a woman in charge of the company. I have lots of thoughts about institutional sexism, but it’s too much to fit into one comment.

– We see all kinds of things. If you can imagine it, someone’s thrown it away. If you can’t imagine it, someone probably still threw it away. I’ve seen everything from piles of drugs to a first-generation platelet counting machine. And yes, a lot of what gets thrown away is still in great condition… many areas are currently trying to create diversion programs to keep useful items out of landfills, but we’re not there yet.

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