Chris Francis of Oceanside was a party planner before the recession hit her business. After a year of searching for a job in her field, a friend told her about a part-time job for an environmental company that hosted hazardous waste collection events around the state. Soon she was flying to San Francisco, Sacramento and other cities, donning a Hazmat suit, and collecting batteries, used car oil, and televisions. While the travel and pay were great, she wanted to be back on the party side of the job. She noticed the workers at the events were being fed fast-food, so she offered to cater the events. Soon she was out of collecting car oil and into deep frying gourmet egg rolls.
“I’m still in the trash business,” she said. “But I found a way to put my passion for event planning, which I love, into the job that I liked,” Francis said. “I travel to a different location twice a week and feed the crew. Sometimes I cater the company parties and occasionally the owner’s parties. I love my job.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment in this [waste management] sector is expected to grow by 21 percent by 2020. Many new jobs will be created in employment services, an industry that is anticipated to account for 40 percent of all new jobs in the sector. Projected growth stems from the strong need for seasonal and temporary workers and for human resources services. The fastest growth in the industry is anticipated to be in waste collection, expected to grow 35 percent by 2020 through population growth and the privatization of waste collection services.”
While not everyone in the waste field can turn trash into food like Francis, there are jobs for those with only high school diplomas to scholars with PhD’s. Gigs are available with private waste-management companies as well as with local city sanitation departments.
At the entry level, the basic job requirements include being 18 years of age, possessing a high-school diploma or equivalent and having a valid Class B driver’s license, which allows you to drive 15,000-pound vehicles.
Advancement within a company usually requires skills learned on the job and some formal training through a job program or two-year technical college. Technicians and engineers who already have college degrees can advance more quickly to management positions. Managerial jobs most often require a four-year degree.
For those with masters and doctoral degrees, jobs can range from geologist, environmental engineers and environmental health and safety careers.
UCSD, the County of San Diego, and private companies such as ChemicoMays, LLC have jobs listed in the waste management field. A career in hazardous waste disposal and management can turn into a gig in a landfill, or a move to Washington, D.C. Several federal agencies deal with hazardous waste, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy, all of whom are looking for people who want trashy careers. The average salary for full-time beginners in waste management in California is $34,000 and can go as high as six-figures for those with advanced degrees.
Mark Kinney made a career out of collecting metal, and for 25 years he turned other people’s trash into a paycheck. “In the early days I was like Sanford & Son,” he said. “I had a lot of crap in my yard and it drove my wife crazy. Finally I got a warehouse, hired three guys and made a good living out of collecting metal. I retired three years ago, but I still can’t help collecting scraps when I see them. My wife doesn’t say anything anymore because we take cruises every year that garbage paid for.”