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A waste collector (or sanitation worker) is a person employed by a public or private enterprise to collect and remove waste (refuse) and recyclables from residential, commercial, industrial or other collection site for further processing and disposal. Specialised waste collection vehicles featuring an array of automated functions are often deployed to assist waste collectors in reducing collection and transport time and for protection from exposure. Waste and recycling pickup work is physically demanding and exposes workers to a number of occupational hazards.
Statistics show that waste collection is one of the most dangerous jobs, at times more dangerous than police work, but consistently less dangerous than commercial fishing and ranch and farm work. On-the-job hazards include broken glass, medical waste such as syringes, caustic chemicals, falling objects from overloaded containers, diseases that may accompany solid waste, asbestos, dog attacks and pests, inhaling dust, smoke and fumes, inclement weather, traffic accidents, and odors so foul that they can make one physically sick.
Scavengers and recyclers
In many developing countries, the first people to tackle the waste collection are pickers (scavengers) working in the informal economy, i.e. they may be self-financing through recycling, repairing, and reselling. Examples include the bottley-wallah, recycler of many sorts of materials in India, castes such as the Zabbaleen in Egypt, or tip scavenger groups in Brazil such as documented in the film Hauling.
In India people performing manual labour as sanitation workers are also called manual scavengers.
Many varieties of English have a range of names for waste collectors, from formal job titles for municipal employees, to colloquial and regional terms.
- Eugène Poubelle, French official, who ordered in 1884 that all Paris landlords supply their tenants with covered garbage containers. His name became the standard French term for a garbage can (waste bin.)
Former waste collectors
- Andy Abraham - X-Factor contestant
- Mike Batt - wombles singer and Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order
- Larry Bird - hall of fame basketball player - briefly after dropping out of Indiana University and before enrolling at Indiana State University.
- Jim Bowen - English stand-up comedian and TV personality, formerly schoolteacher
- Michael Carroll - UK National Lottery winner (got his job back in 2010 after he went bankrupt)
- Barry Horne - animal rights activist
- Steve Hutchins - politician
- Richard Leiterman - cinematographer
- Nathan Rees - politician, former Premier of New South Wales
- Neville Southall - international footballer
- Georges St-Pierre - mixed martial artist and UFC Welterweight Champion, (worked as a garbage man for 6 months)
- Benjamin Pell - a quasi-private investigator known in the British press as "Benji The Binman".
- Martin Phillips - Welsh darts player who has made multiple appearances in the BDO World Professional Darts Championship
- Peter Steele - late vocalist/bassist of Type O Negative drove garbage trucks and other vehicles for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
- Malcolm Webster - convicted murderer in England
Fictional waste collectors
- Nicodemus "Noddy" Boffin, aka the Golden Dustman, in Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend, probably based on Henry Dodd, a ploughboy who made his fortune removing London's rubbish.
- Alfred P. Doolittle (Stanley Holloway), a common dustman, My Fair Lady from the stage play, Broadway, 1956; London, 1958; Warner Bros. motion picture, 1964.
- Louie Wilson (Scatman Crothers) of Chico and the Man
- Carl (Charlie Sheen) and James (Emilio Estevez) from the 1990 film Men at Work
- Barney Gorman (Tony Danza) from the 1998 television film The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon
- Bob and Doug McKenzie, on their 2009 animated series
- Sid Phillips, main antagonist in the animated film Toy Story (1995) who grows up to be a bin man as seen in Toy Story 3 (2010)
- Garbageman - From Dilbert
- Howard Moon of The Mighty Boosh has worked twice as a bin man, once prior to the show and lastly in The Strange Tale of the Crack Fox.
- Duke "The Dumpster" Droese, character created by professional wrestler Mike Droese
- Muckman - From Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Wreck-Gar - From Transformers Animated
- Roc Emerson, from the Fox television series Roc
- Roger Wilco - From the Space Quest computer game series by Sierra Entertainment
- The films Blood Feast, Scanners III: The Takeover and Child's Play 3 all feature minor characters being murdered with refuse trucks.
- Oliver Frensky - From Arthur (TV series). 
- Jonathan Thomas Meriweather - A sanitation engineer mistaken for an engineer in Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster, saving the world with magic
- Shigeru, from the 1991 film A Scene at the Sea by Takeshi Kitano.
- Mr. Persepolis, father of Angeline Persepolis in Someday Angeline by Louis Sachar
- 2009 Leeds refuse workers strike
- Beach cleaner
- Curbside collection
- Memphis sanitation strike, USA, 1968
- Waste management
- "The 15 Most Dangerous Jobs In America".
- "The 10 Most Dangerous Jobs in America - Risk Management Monitor".
- Note that the Australian term "garbo" stems from a now-disused street cry used by garbagemen during the early 20th century. "The silence of the bottle-oh". The Sydney Morning Herald. Sydney, NSW. 15 December 1951. p. 2.
- Note that the British term "dustman" stems from the Victorian era, when men would collect the dust - ashes and cinders - created by the many tons of fossil fuels burned in cooking ranges at the time. Victorian London
- "I found great synonyms for "sanitation engineer" on the new Thesaurus.com!".
- Sun, Baltimore. "Welcome to the MMA Insider blog on baltimoresun.com".
- "Refuse trucks on film". April 2010. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
- "My Dad, the Garbage Man/Poor Muffy".
- Labor Market Information Division (2002). "California Occupational Guide Number 460: Mechanical - Skilled Occupations: Refuse Collectors". State of California, Employment Development Department. Retrieved 2008-05-28. Re-uploaded by www.hardrawgathering.co.uk