Meet the $100K-a-Year Garbage Collectors
It turns out the industry pays pretty well and wages are rising
By Jenn Gidman, Newser Staff
Posted Feb 24, 2016 1:03 PM CST
One man's trash, another's paycheck.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – No one wants to be a doctor in New Zealand for $267,000 a year, but getting paid $100,000 to sift through giant rats, dead animals, and even human body parts is right up Noel Molina and Tony Sankar's alley. Both men made six figures as NYC garbage collectors last year (Molina $112,000 as a driver, Sankaer $100,000 as a helper), complete with health insurance and a 401(k), CNNMoney reports. And although not all trash workers rack up those kind of bucks, most enjoy a higher salary than not only many high school dropouts (with median earnings in 2013 of about $24,000, per the Department of Ed), but many high school grads ($30,000) and even some college grads ($48,500 for those with a bachelor's degree). Per the Department of Labor, the median annual wage for "refuse and recyclable materials collectors" is $33,600, with those in the top 10% pulling in $58,590. And if you're in a high-paying state, those wages are even more: In New York, for example, the annual mean wage is $52,570, or just over $25 per hour.

To be sure, Molina and Sanka earn that paycheck: They work 55 to 60 hours a week from 7pm to 3am, do lots of heavy lifting in unsafe environments and all sorts of weather, and deal with stuff no one else would want to (that human body part: a leg Sankar spotted in a dumpster). And some people feel there's still a stigma attached to handling trash. But it's a relatively easy field to get into: There's no high school diploma needed for many private companies, and firms will often train for the commercial license required to drive a truck. Plus industry wages have been consistently rising, qualified workers are in demand, and there's plenty of job security. "We're one of the very few blue-collar jobs that can't be outsourced to China," the director of the Solid Waste Association of North America says. (Garbage collectors are even considered to be "green" occupations.)