1. It’s One of the Most Dangerous Jobs in the World
There are around 90 work-related deaths out of 100,000 employees in the US per year. Sanitation worker is ranked third among the riskiest jobs in the United States, with only fishing and timber cutting ranked higher. Garbage collectors have twice the fatality rates of police officers and nearly seven times that of firefighters.
Dangerous machinery, falls, exposure to needles, and other sharp objects are just a few of the many reasons for injury and death.
2. Some Garbage Workers Lift 100 Pounds or More Hundreds of Times During a Shift
Unless you work in a city where they have fancy hydraulic lifts for the trucks, sanitation workers lift and toss 15 to 20,000 pounds of rancid garbage on average into the truck during a single shift.
3. Garbage Men and Women Find a Lot of Drugs
The trash heap is THE place to toss your stash when on the run from the cops, so garbage men are not phased by finding all manner of drugs – and sometimes those drugs are explosive.
One garbage man recounted an interesting story about just such an explosion on Reddit: “My guys called me frantic one day after an explosion in the hopper of the truck. Thankfully no one was injured, but I called the fire department and police always come on fire calls too. Turns out they had been watching the house we were in front of because the guy was cooking meth. He threw away some of the ingredients and the pressure when it compacted caused it to explode. The best part was the fact that the guy sat out front watching the show in a bathrobe. He eventually got dressed and came back out. When he was arrested he had drugs in his pants. Apparently he didn’t own any pants without drugs in the pockets.”
4. Some Towns Train Their Garbage Men to Spot Crime
In Men at Work, garbage men Charlie Sheen and his real life bro Emilio Estevez (who also wrote and directed the film) uncover an illegal toxic waste dump after finding a body in a can on their route. A county in Florida thinks their garbage workers would also make good sleuths. They’re out on those mean streets every day, after all. Waste Management and Manatee County, in Florida, even train their trash collectors to spot and report suspicious activity.
“They’re out early in the morning when most folks like myself are sleeping then they’re out during the daytime in your communities or they’ve left home and gone to work,” said Joe Vidovich, head of corporate security for Waste Management. “So, they’re in a position to see what’s going on in your neighborhoods when you’re not there.”
Other towns across the US also turn to their garbage collectors – as well as postal workers – to look for any kind of suspicious behavior.
5. Pay Averages $9.11 to $24.50 per Hour
The average hourly rate for a garbage man is $15.55. Drivers typically make more than the average refuse worker and need a commercial driver’s license.
6. Before There Were Garbage Men, There Were Toshers, Mudlarks, and Dustmen
People took care of their own waste by burying it or burning it, until the population boom around the turn of the century. With the arrival of the Industrial Age, many waste products could be recycled to make others. Dog feces were used to purify leather and ash was added to mortar. This scraping lead to many clashes between scavengers and authorities.
The Public Health Act of 1875 created a formal waste collection authority and required that household bins be full with each pick up. Empty cans resulted in a fine.
In fact, it was Benjamin Franklin who created the first street cleaning service in 1757.
7. Garbage Men Sometimes Keep the Good Stuff You Throw Out
Just because your old flat screen TV has that ugly scratch on and you’ve replaced it doesn’t mean it should be dumped. Garbage collectors have zero qualms about salvaging working electronics, collectibles, and other items.
8. Fall Is Not a Popular Season with Refuse Workers
Leaves fall, yards get raked, bins fill up. Those leaves result in thousands of pounds of lifting for garbage men and women. They’re not so fond of winter either when snow piles up on garbage and bins.
9. Garbage Men Are Used to Being Hit or Splashed with Feces and Urine
One Philadelphia sanitation worker described picking up whole crates of bottled urine. “Remember that spot on 45th street? The guys had whole crates, maybe 10 of them, and each crate holds nine bottles of urine in Frank’s soda bottles,” Terry Lawson recounted in 2012 to the Metropolis. “They put it in a box and it splash [sic] up on us.”
10. Around 99% of US Refuse Workers Are Men
Although there are at least 1,000 women working as garbage collectors and drivers in the United States.
11. People Throw Away a Lot of Porn
It turns out, non-online porn is still a go-to for many people. So, when a new partner moves in or a mother- or father-in-law comes to visit, there may be an emergency chucking. Tons of porn turning up in the bin may also be the result of an angry fit by a snooping boyfriend or girlfriend. In any case, garbage men and women see a lot of porn stashes getting tossed out.
12. Early Garbage Men Didn’t Get Plague Pay
What did people do with their garbage before the modern day truck with hydraulic lift and landfills? They buried it, composted, and recycled. The first garbage men were “rakers.” They raked up the trash weekly and were susceptible to many diseases.
Most notably, rakers were tasked with collecting the infected and dead during the Black Death across 14th century Europe. Considering that 50 million people died of the plague, the raker’s job was particularly dangerous and grisly.
13. There’s So Much Garbage on Everest, the Indian Army Had to Become Garbage Men
Since the 1970s, thousands of pounds of garbage has collected over the 8,850 meter trek up the mountain. A 34 member team from the Indian army removed waste (mainly from Camp 1) in April of 2015. ”Sadly, Mount Everest is now … called the world’s highest junkyard,” Maj. Ranveer Singh Jamval, the team leader said.
This isn’t the first garbage removal from Everest. Since 2008, Eco Everest Expedition makes an annual trek to bring down garbage from the mountain. Authorities in Nepal now require climber to carry out an extra 18 pounds of garbage in addition to their own human waste and trash.
14. Lots of NYC Trash Has to Be Removed by Hand
Between midnight and 5 am, garbage collectors have to remove all of the garbage in New York’s Chinatown. Most of it has to be hand carried. Mike Rowe found out just how hard it is to carry hundreds of pounds of garbage up and down stairs for five hours.
15. The Average Diesel-Powered Garbage Truck Costs Between $235,000 and $250,000
Garbage trucks have come a long way. Since the 1920s, they have evolved with the law, reducing garbage collectors’ exposure to waste. Most modern day trucks are fully automated, requiring only drivers. Some garbage trucks even have motion-activated cameras.
16. Being a Garbage Man or Garbage Woman Is Not a Fall Back Career
Generally, garbage collectors take great pride in their work and they don’t take kindly to people thinking of it as a throw a way job.
17. Waste Used to Be Dumped in the Ocean, Waterways, or Any Vacant Lot
By 1908, the U.S. mainly dumped its waste in the ocean, wetlands, smaller waterways, and just about any unused land mass. It wouldn’t be until 1934 when the Supreme Court banned dumping in the ocean.
18. Garbage Collectors Will Search Through Trash for the Cops
There’s a reason investigators turn to garbage men to go through the trash. They are not about to get their suits dirty and sanitation professionals know how to sort through garbage quickly and effectively.
19. Many Small Towns Had Piggeries for Food Waste
In the early 1900s, most small towns had “piggeries,” small pig farms where raw and cooked food waste was fed to the swine.
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