When thinking about careers in waste management, it’s easy to assume the majority of jobs entail sorting through recyclables, manipulating the levers of a massive garbage lift, or driving a collection truck, but the truth is there are actually a lot of other important roles in the industry.
Not only do these jobs allow people to work in an industry that plays an absolutely critical role in our society, but they often provide a decent living. The waste management industry comprises many positions that require technical skills, scientific knowledge, leadership abilities, creativity, and powers of analysis—requirements that speak to the complexity of what it takes to dispose of our trash.
A big part of the waste management world involves heavy machinery and vehicles. As such, there are endless engines, gears, brakes, and clutches that need to be constantly maintained. Dump trucks, bulldozers, and other vehicles, as well as sorting and compacting machines need skilled mechanics and machinists to handle complex repairs, adjustments, routine maintenance, and assessments on a regular basis. These individuals play a key role in keeping waste collection services going.
A landfill isn’t just a hole in the ground where people dump their trash—it’s a highly engineered structure whose operation must comply with many regulations. There are workers performing many different tasks across a large site, and that is precisely why significant supervision and coordination is needed. A landfill supervisor is the first level of this oversight process and is responsible for planning and organizing the work of the many laborers and equipment operators at a landfill. The role involves overseeing the operation of the landfill itself, as well as the proper functioning of drainage and leachate collection systems.
Additionally, the person in this role is typically responsible for gathering data and maintaining appropriate records, creating reports, and investigating and resolving any violations of operating procedures, regulations, or rules. He or she is typically the point of contact for site inspectors from government agencies and regulatory bodies. A landfill supervisor may also negotiate contracts with vendors to perform certain functions.
Overall, the position demands deep knowledge of landfill operating procedures; federal, state, and local regulations and ordinances; workplace hazards; and best practices related to employee safety, training, and management. Landfill supervision is an important job with a large degree of responsibility; when landfills aren’t managed properly, they can pose a serious risk to public health and the environment.
Director of Waste & Recycling
At an even higher level of responsibility, talented individuals are needed to oversee the waste management and recycling systems of cities, counties, and other jurisdictions. The person in this role is essentially a public-sector CEO, and might have the ultimate responsibility for the safe, efficient operation of multiple landfills, incinerators, recycling facilities, transfer stations, and hazardous waste collection sites that may serve millions of people.
Executive leadership, budgeting, revenue management, and strategic planning are just a few of the skills and abilities this position demands. The person in this position is responsible for the overall direction of the waste disposal system, taking into account environmental concerns, government regulations, and budget/resource limitations. He or she typically must develop strategies to increase revenue or align sometimes-scarce resources more efficiently. Collaboration and communication with local elected officials (such as the city mayor or county board of representatives) and with state and federal government regulators are also big parts of the job.
In addition, a director of this kind can develop and promote public education programs that increase awareness and community participation in waste reduction, reuse, and recycling.
Possibly one of the most exciting roles in the world of waste, the environmental engineer has a hands-on (and brains-on) chance to directly influence the way waste is handled in communities. From designing a landfill to devising remediation processes that prevent harmful contaminants from reaching the soil, water, or air, environmental engineers use their in-depth scientific knowledge to design solutions to environmental problems. These individuals might also work as inspectors or policy advisers.
Environmental engineers are critical to the waste management industry because it is their knowledge that keeps the public safe and reduces harm to the environment. While some of the other jobs on this list may involve more general oversight, environmental engineers are concerned with the technical details. For example, without environmental engineers, we wouldn’t know the most effective ways to prevent garbage incinerators from emitting toxic pollutants, or how to prevent leachate from seeping into the earth and contaminating groundwater around landfills. Indeed, we might not know how to measure pollutants in the environment at all.
So, if you have ever toyed with the idea of a career in the waste management industry, just remember there are several options requiring a number of different skillsets, abilities, and talents. It’s likely that there’s a position that is perfect for you. Start your job search today.