Garbage Collectors Make More Than You Realize

When brainstorming for job opportunities that pay well, employment as a garbage collector might not be the first occupation that comes to mind. But, first impressions aren't always correct. Garbage collector jobs generally pay a good hourly wage, and with steady work. After all, garbage always needs to get picked up no matter what is happening in the economy.

Just how much do garbage collectors earn? You may be surprised to learn that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for garbage collectors is more than $20 per hour, which adds up to a yearly salary above $45,500. The Economic Research Institute, meanwhile, reports that this field's mean (average) salary is $18 per hour, which is just a bit lower than the median wage.

The highest-paid garbage collectors in the United States can earn much more than the median or mean wages reported for this job. BLS reports that the highest-paid garbage collectors earn more than $32 per hour, which works out to median annual earnings of more than $67,000.

Garbage collector wages by location

Pay for garbage collectors can vary significantly by location, with large metropolitan areas and/or places with a high cost of living typically paying more. Consider the list below of example pay rates for garbage collectors in cities of varying sizes. The average wage estimates are from the Economic Research Institute, with population estimates based on U.S. Census Bureau data from 2022:

  • Boston, Massachusetts: $22 per hour (population ~650,000)

  • Los Angeles, California: $20 per hour (population ~3.8 million)

  • Austin, Texas: $17 per hour (population ~974,000)

  • Seattle, Washington: $18 per hour (population ~749,000)

  • Mobile, Alabama: $16 per hour (population ~183,000)

As with any job, entry-level garbage collectors are likely to earn less than those who have been employed in the field for a while. Individuals whose duties involve driving a garbage truck tend to earn a higher pay rate than those who are solely responsible for collection duties.

Garbage collector employers

Not everyone in this field has the exact job title of garbage collector. This type of position may be referred to by several other titles, such as sanitation worker, refuse collector, or recyclable materials collector. This type of position is available with both public and private sector employers. People who do this type of work usually work for one of the following types of organizations:

  • The local government

  • A private waste collection company

  • A waste treatment and disposal company

  • A remediation service provider

Garbage collectors who work for local governments typically qualify for excellent employee benefits, including a public sector pension plan, a significant employer contribution toward health insurance, and generous leave policies. Employee benefits vary widely among private-sector employers. It's always a good idea to ask about benefits when applying for a job, as employer contributions toward benefits can add significant value to the base wage.