The mountains of garbage collected every day in America draw companies to the task of collection, disposal, and reuse of those millions of tons of refuse – known as waste management.
Now, more than ever, those companies are seeing the shining value of their work paying off. Additional government investment is spurring innovation and growth that will require workers – not only for those everyday CDL truck drivers that we see rolling through our neighborhoods – but also for positions. Related to recycling, energy, and technology.
The total generation of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2018, the most recent year data is available, was 292.4 million tons or 4.9 pounds per person per day, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Of the USW generated, approximately 69 million tons were recycled, and 25 million tons were composted. Together, almost 94 million tons of MSW were recycled and composted, equivalent to a 32.1% recycling and composting rate.
The U.S. waste and recycling industry was worth an estimated $91 billion in revenue during 2022, according to data from research and consulting firm Waste Business Journal, up from $82 billion in 2021. With this data in mind, we can understand that waste management positions will only grow in the future.
How does waste management affect the environment?
In recent years, landfills have become sources of renewable innovation as America seeks to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. While not every scrap of garbage can be reused, so much more is available because of technology, and the very gases that decomposing garbage creates can be used to fuel energy sources.
Last year’s federal climate bill passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden sweetened the economics of trash gas. A federal proposal to offer additional credits for bio-gas projects that produce power for electric vehicles could make the incentives even stronger.
Major players in the waste management industry are building new facilities, among hundreds already in operation. These are used for storing garbage and can isolate methane from the fumes of rotting trash and pipe it directly into natural gas infrastructure. Automation is helping separate valuable recyclables from the stream.
Landfill owners are expecting hundreds of millions of dollars in additional profit from rising demand for recycled materials and tax incentives for making energy from emissions that would otherwise drift upward into our atmosphere. And this rising demand leads to an increase in warehouse management positions.
Many hard-to-fill recycling jobs will be replaced by optical sorters, which use infrared cameras to spot valuable materials in the jumble and blow the desirable bits into separate bins.
But while those physical jobs might be hard to fill, the technology needed to make up the difference is creating new opportunities for careers to develop and maintain the technology. Landfill gas technicians and supervisors will find themselves in demand as well as general waste management professionals, with methane gas providing the kind of green-friendly option many environmental advocates wish to see from everyday human activity.
Of course, seasoned waste management professionals who have the right background and a deep understanding of the environment, science, and business of landfills will be required to keep these industries on target.
Landfills, once an afterthought of simply keeping our communities free of trash, have become a source of environmental innovation and technology. The gold rush of the Old West gave us the phrase “There’s gold in them thar hills,” but it could just as easily describe the business and job opportunities of today’s modern landfills.
EnviroStaff is a division of LGC that focuses on making placements in the environmental industry including waste management. We build partnerships with clients to fill open positions on their team and have recruiting capabilities within multiple markets throughout the U.S. Working closely together, EnviroStaff will recruit environmental industry professionals based on your job description and requirements. By making direct hire placements, EnviroStaff can help clients save time and money often associated with recruiting.