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.