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Rubbish/​Recycling Collector

Kaiwhakahiato Rāpihi

Alternative titles for this job

Rubbish/recycling collectors collect household, industrial or commercial rubbish for disposal or recycling.


Rubbish/recycling collectors usually earn

$18-$22 per hour

Source: Waste Management, September 2015.

Job opportunities

Opportunities for rubbish/recycling collectors are average as, although turnover is high, the occupation is declining.


Rubbish/recycling collectors usually earn between minimum wage and $22 an hour. Owner-drivers earn more, but they have more costs to consider, such as vehicle maintenance.

Source: Waste Management New Zealand Limited, September 2015. 

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Rubbish/recycling collectors may do some or all of the following:

  • drive or ride on a rubbish/recycling truck
  • pick up bags or bins of rubbish/recycling and throw them into the truck
  • separate rubbish for recycling
  • operate equipment that crushes rubbish and items for recycling
  • unload and clean rubbish/recycling trucks
  • drive forklifts or vehicles with tracks or rollers.

Skills and knowledge

Rubbish/recycling collectors need to have knowledge of:

  • collection routes
  • what they should or should not collect
  • health and safety guidelines
  • correct lifting and carrying techniques
  • how to operate rubbish compactors and other types of rubbish/recycling collection vehicles.

Ability to drive a heavy vehicle, forklift or vehicle with tracks or rollers is also useful.

Working conditions

Rubbish/recycling collectors:

  • work irregular hours, including early mornings
  • work outdoors on suburban streets and in commercial and industrial areas
  • work in most types of weather, and in conditions that may be dirty, messy and smelly.

What's the job really like?

Dave Ihaia

Dave Ihaia

Rubbish Collector

Dave Ihaia likes to do his job with a bit of style. "When members of the public see you flipping each bin over with your foot once it's emptied, they think, 'He's got the hang of it.' It makes me happy that people notice what I do."

The quicker you do it, the earlier you finish

With 1,000 bins to get through each day, Dave says speed is of the essence. "It's always best to work as fast as possible. It's good working with someone who goes at the same pace as me – then we can finish early.

"Sometimes I notice young kids watching us to see how fast we can do their street. I'll tell the others they're watching, and to go hard. The kids just stand there in amazement!"

A sense of humour makes a difficult job easier

Despite the hazards, it's a job that helps you keep fit and motivated. But it's not for everyone, says Dave. "It can be hard and sometimes unpleasant work when you've been running in the sun for seven hours, or when it rains and all the water in the bins drips onto your legs. But you need to try and keep a sense of humour."

Entry requirements

There are no specific requirements to become a rubbish/recycling collector. However, MITO is currently developing three resource recovery qualifications. 

To become a rubbish/recycling truck driver, you need to have a heavy vehicle driver's licence. It may also be helpful to have a licence with an F, R, T or W endorsement, so you can drive forklifts or vehicles with rollers or tracks. 

To drive a forklift you must also have an occupational safety and health (OSH) certificate.

Personal requirements

Rubbish/recycling collectors need to be:

  • practical, with an eye for detail
  • quick and efficient
  • disciplined and punctual.

You get pretty quick at sorting recycling after a while. We put all the paper and cardboard into one hand, and the tins and plastic in the other, then throw them straight into the correct recycling cages.

Photo: Dave Ihaia

Dave Ihaia

Rubbish Collector

Useful experience

Useful experience for rubbish/recycling collectors includes any work involving physical labour or driving heavy vehicles.

Physical requirements

Rubbish/recycling collectors need to have a good level of fitness and must be strong, as they have to do a lot of running, lifting and throwing.

Find out more about training

0800 882 121 - -
Worksafe New Zealand
0800 030 040 - -
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Rubbish/recycling collector vacancies arise regularly because turnover is high. Early hours and the physically demanding nature of the work mean people tend to leave the role after a short time.

Increasing importance of recycling creates some demand for collectors

Council recycling targets have created some demand for collectors. Many councils set targets to reduce the amount of rubbish sent to landfills after the Waste Minimisation Act was passed in 2008. Some have increased kerbside recycling for residential households and businesses, as well as providing specialist recycling collections for industrial companies.

Robot arms replace human workers

Although opportunities exist for rubbish/recycling collectors, the overall number of people in the role has been gradually falling as trucks become automated. Trucks with special arms that pick up and put down wheelie bins mean the job of two or three workers can now be done by one.

Councils and waste management businesses biggest employers

Most rubbish/recycling collectors work for city and regional councils or waste management companies. Some rubbish/recycling collectors are self-employed and work as owner-drivers, contracting their services to waste management businesses.


  • Fell, D, branch manager, Wellington Recycling, Waste Management, Careers New Zealand interview, September 2015.
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
  • Simm, P, regional manager – Wellington, Waste Management, Careers New Zealand interview, September 2015.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Rubbish/recycling collectors usually start out doing more laborious jobs such as picking up rubbish bags and throwing them into collection trucks. They can then progress into roles involving operating machinery or heavy vehicles.

Dave Ihaia standing on the side of truck collecting rubbish for recycling

Rubbish/recycling collectors collect and sort household and commercial rubbish for disposal or recycling

Last updated 27 September 2019