What garbage and recycling workers earn in every state

The United States generates 254 million tons of trash every year; without regular removal we’d all be drowning in garbage.

Doing that picking up is both dirty and dangerous. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fatal injury rate in this business is 33 per 100,000, which is higher than those of miners, construction workers and cops.

Garbage collectors are plagued by musculoskeletal injuries, eye injuries, fractured limbs and animal bites, experts say. They are also exposed to pathogens, toxins and chemicals from the waste and its decomposition as well as vehicle exhaust fumes, noise, extreme temperatures and ultraviolet radiation, according to the journal Occupational Medicine.

Extreme heat and cold can make the job tougher, depending on the location, and sanitation workers often face creatures, even in urban areas — rats, opossums, squirrels, raccoons, cats, dogs, bears and even feral roosters. Waste workers report finding dead animals, rotten fish, bodily fluids, sex toys and pet waste. (Somebody has to empty out all those dog-poop trash cans at the park — and it’s not the Turd Fairy.)

Is it worth it? Well, earnings vary pretty widely across the United States. The wages following are ranked lowest to highest for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, based on stats from the BLS

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What garbage and recycling workers earn in every state
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What garbage and recycling workers earn in every state

51. South Carolina

Hourly mean wage: $12.14

Annual mean wage: $25,250

The Palmetto State brings up the rear in compensation for trash and recycling workers. Meanwhile, the cost of living in South Carolina falls at about the midpoint among states, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center.

50. Mississippi

Hourly mean wage: $12.34

Annual mean wage: $25,660

49. West Virginia

Hourly mean wage: $12.75

Annual mean wage: $26,510

48. South Dakota

Hourly mean wage: $13.04

Annual mean wage: $27,130

Working in the garbage collection business isn’t the best paying job in South Dakota, where the mean salary for such workers ranks fourth lowest in the country. Meanwhile the cost of living in the state ranks just about in the middle among states. And the climate — important to workers exposed to the elements — is among the most extreme in the county.

47. Arkansas

Hourly mean wage: $13.30

Annual mean wage: $27,660

46. Kentucky

Hourly mean wage: $13.56

Annual mean wage: $28,200

Some 180 tons of garbage are generated by the annual Kentucky Derby alone — and that’s just the human stuff. Up to 50 pounds of waste is generated by one horse in a typical day.

45. Maine

Hourly mean wage: $13.59

Annual mean wage: $28,260

44. Tennessee

Hourly mean wage: $13.74

Annual mean wage: $28,580

Memphis, Tennessee, was the site of a key Civil Rights-era strike, which was launched by the city’s mainly African-American sanitation workers after two employees were crushed to death when a truck malfunctioned. The city’s poor response to the event, and a long-running pattern of abuse and neglect sparked the strike, which was followed by a police crackdown and martial law. The strike had the backing of white and black religious leaders including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., prompting thousands to protest, and ultimately winning higher wages for the sanitation workers and recognition of their union. It was during this strike that King was assassinated in Memphis.

Today, pay for Tennessee waste workers ranks 44th in the nation.

Another garbage-related fact from the state: The country’s first closed-container garbage truck was invented in Knoxville in 1935 by George Roby Dempster. (He also invented the dumpster.)

43. North Carolina

Hourly mean wage: $13.90

Annual mean wage: $28,910

42. Nebraska

Hourly mean wage: $13.90

Annual mean wage: $28,920

41. Louisiana

Hourly mean wage: $14.39

Annual mean wage: $29,930

40. Alabama

Hourly mean wage: $14.86

Annual mean wage: $30,910

39. Kansas

Hourly mean wage: $14.82

Annual mean wage: $30,820

38. Idaho (tie)

Hourly mean wage: $14.92

Annual mean wage: $31,030

38. Maryland (tie)

Hourly mean wage: $14.92

Annual mean wage: $31,030

36. Iowa

Hourly mean wage: $15.10

Annual mean wage: $31,410

35. Georgia

Hourly mean wage: $15.22

Annual mean wage: $31,670

34. Virginia

Hourly mean wage: $15.28

Annual mean wage: $31,790

33. Vermont

Hourly mean wage: $15.80

Annual mean wage: $32,860

32. Indiana

Hourly mean wage: $15.97

Annual mean wage: $33,230

31. Oklahoma

Hourly mean wage: $16.09

Annual mean wage: $33,470

30. Texas

Hourly mean wage: $16.39

Annual mean wage: $34,090

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which affected more than 100,000 Houston homes, the garbage collectors had their work cut out for them — millions of tons of sheet rock, furniture, flooring and other water-damaged household goods had to be picked up.

29. Missouri

Hourly mean wage: $16.52

Annual mean wage: $34,350

28. North Dakota

Hourly mean wage: $16.53

Annual mean wage: $34,390

Garbage collectors worked overtime after the end of the protest at Standing Rock by Native Americans and others opposing construction of an oil pipeline. The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services reports that 21.48 million pounds of trash, waste and debris were carted away from three protest camps.

27. New Mexico

Hourly mean wage: $16.81

Annual mean wage: $34,970

26. Florida


Hourly mean wage: $17.05

Annual mean wage: $35,470

The Circle D Corral — home to all the live animals at Disney World in Orlando — was the first theme-park facility to earn a “Zero Waste” certification from the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council. According to the park, 99 percent of its waste is repurposed, composted or recycled. And here we thought it was the Florida sunshine that makes the park so green.

25. Utah

Hourly mean wage: $17.19

Annual mean wage: $35,750

24. Ohio

Hourly mean wage: $17.37

Annual mean wage: $36,130

23. Montana

Hourly mean wage: $17.53

Annual mean wage: $36,460

22. Hawaii

Hourly mean wage: $17.59

Annual mean wage: $36,580

21. Wyoming

Hourly mean wage: $17.63

Annual mean wage: $36,680

20. Delaware

Hourly mean wage: $18.37

Annual mean wage: $38,200

19. Colorado

Hourly mean wage: $18.56

Annual mean wage: $38,610

18. Nevada

Hourly mean wage: $18.57

Annual mean wage: $38,620

17. Wisconsin

Hourly mean wage: $18.61

Annual mean wage: $38,700

16. New Hampshire

Hourly mean wage: $16.02

Annual mean wage: $33,320

15. New Jersey

Hourly mean wage: $18.00

Annual mean wage: $37,450

14. Pennsylvania

Hourly mean wage: $18.22

Annual mean wage: $37,910

Philadelphia Eagles fans went a little wacky when their team won the Super Bowl in 2018. To get clearer views of the celebratory parade they climbed trees, utility poles, statues, traffic lights, porta-potties, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s fountains and, yes, a garbage truck. Atop the truck they danced to “Jump On It” and somehow avoided injury.

13. Michigan

Hourly mean wage: $18.65

Annual mean wage: $38,790

12. Rhode Island

Hourly mean wage: $19.15

Annual mean wage: $39,830

11. Arizona

Hourly mean wage: $20.25

Annual mean wage: $42,130

10. Minnesota

Hourly mean wage: $20.34

Annual mean wage: $42,300

9. Connecticut

Hourly mean wage: $20.54

Annual mean wage: $42,730

The state has had mandatory recycling since 1991, with laws that can fine residents for throwing recyclables in the trash.

8. Massachusetts

Hourly mean wage: $20.58

Annual mean wage: $42,810 

Photo credit: Getty

7. Oregon

Hourly mean wage: $21.20

Annual mean wage: $44,100

6. Alaska

Hourly mean wage: $21.29

Annual mean wage: $44,280

5. District of Columbia

Hourly mean wage: $21.65

Annual mean wage: $45,020

4. Washington

Hourly mean wage: $22.50

Annual mean wage: $46,800

Trash and recycling collectors in the state do pretty well within their occupation, with earnings that rank fourth highest among states.

One resident of the Evergreen State, Stevin John, set his admiration for the garbage professionals (and their vehicles) to song. The pre-K set knows him as “Blippi,” the guy who sings “The Garbage Truck Song” on YouTube. 

Photo credit: Getty

3. California

Hourly mean wage: $24.93

Annual mean wage: $51,860

California’s trash and recycling workers rank third for their earnings. The state also has the third highest cost of living.

2. Illinois

Hourly mean wage: $25.18

Annual mean wage: $52,370

1. New York

Hourly mean wage: $27.06

Annual mean wage: $56,280

A lot of people want to be sanitation workers in the Big Apple. However, just 1 percent of applicants wind up getting hired.

While it’s a thankless and grueling job, it’s one that helps maintain public health and safety. So the next time you hear about solid waste employees getting a raise, don’t begrudge them: It’s still probably not enough to compensate them for what they do.

How do sanitation workers earnings in your state line up with others? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page

Photo credit: Getty

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