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Filthy & Dangerous: The Risky Job of a Garbage Collector

December 2, 2021

This week I had the honor of meeting our CNMI trash collection companies to share with them the Universal Garbage Collection (UGC) initiative and to get their feedback on moving the UGC forward. I say honor because trash collection is a dirty and under-appreciated job in our community. We all know by now that keeping our hands clean is one of the most effective ways to keep the coronavirus away. But what if it’s your job to get your hands dirty?

When you talk about the dirtiest jobs around, there’s no doubt that the image of a trash collector on the back of a garbage truck comes to mind. After all, it’s their job to handle your garbage. More than dirty, a waste and recycling worker’s job is dangerous.

Perhaps you may not think about trash and recycling workers often, yet every week they arrive at your house or business to empty your bins. That’s only a fraction of what they do each day, rain or shine, and usually with no recognition. If you look up the 10 most dangerous jobs in America, you will find garbage collectors have been ranked as high as number three. According to Time magazine, refuse and recyclable material collectors are ranked fifth on the list of dangerous professions. As far dangerous jobs go, refuse collectors, such as those who pick up your trash, beat out farmworkers, steelworkers, and powerline installers.

Many factors contribute to the dangers of this labor-intensive position, including the elements. Picking up and dumping trash bins over and over for hours each day is physical­ly taxing, but when you throw extreme temperatures into the mix, it becomes even more dangerous. Trash collection workers have to stay hydrated to avoid heatstroke, a real and serious risk in our hot and humid weather.

Other dangers include exposure to hazardous materials in the trash bins. Trash collectors suffer injuries from broken glass, used medical needles, nails from construction debris, chemicals, paint, and many other waste items that are dangerous when tossed mindlessly into a trash collection bin. This is another good argument for why we need to properly sort and dispose of our garbage.

Overhead obstacles such as low-hanging electrical wires, communication wires, and even tree branches are a challenge for garbage trucks and workers. Sometimes tree branches have wires tangled within them, making them camouflaged and difficult to see. There is always the threat of electrocution.

Road Incidents are a concern for waste and recycling workers. Being hit by a vehicle always remains a top worry for sanitation workers and one of the leading causes of fatalities in the industry in the US. Distracted or careless drivers zooming around a truck and hitting a worker loading materials into the back of a truck are incidents that plague the industry. When you see a truck, please slow down and proceed with caution.

During this Covid-19 emergency, we’ve seen excessive amounts of garbage from personal protective equipment to disposable containers. They can all host the virus and facilitate the spread of the disease. The New England Journal of Medicine found that the coronavirus remains viable on surfaces for several hours, surviving longer on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard. Accumulation must be avoided, which makes the continuity of sanitation services even more essential.

I tip my hat and offer an acclamation of thanks for the untiring efforts of our trash collection companies and their workers. The next time you come across a garbage collector, be sure to thank him or her for their service.

For more information about the Universal Garbage Collection initiative, visit the GCEA website at Engage with the UGC Task Force via email at

By Gary Sword, Chairman, Universal Garbage Collection Task Force

Gary Sword is the Vice President of the KKMP Radio Station, one of the most popular and beloved stations in the Marianas, and has extensive experience in power, water, wastewater, and solid waste services. Gary serves as a member of the Domestic Policy Recovery Committee for the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers.

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