As a recycling officer, you'll manage local recycling schemes and plan and develop waste reduction policies

You may also help to create and deliver educational programmes and organise community, school and media liaison initiatives

You might work for a local authority such as a county, district, borough or metropolitan council in a relevant department, such as environmental services, waste management or community services. Alternatively, you could work in the private sector for recycling contractors or environmental charities.

Responsibilities

As a recycling officer, you'll need to:

  • encourage households and businesses to recycle more
  • initiate new recycling schemes
  • monitor, improve and expand existing schemes and facilities, e.g. recycling banks, kerbside collections and composting
  • strategically plan for the management and development of recycling and find new ways to meet local and national targets
  • work to 'best practice' schemes and guidelines in order to maximise resources and reduce costs
  • collect data, compile statistics and draft reports
  • manage budgets, assess tenders and prepare funding bids
  • advise and assist local community groups in carrying out their recycling
  • prepare, manage and monitor recycling contracts
  • manage and promote initiatives through advertising and publicity campaigns
  • keep abreast of, and comply with, current recycling legislation and EU policy
  • advise local businesses on waste disposal and recycling initiatives
  • recruit and train volunteers in community organisations.

Salary

  • Your starting salary as a recycling officer will be in the region of £19,000 to £25,000. Salaries in some community organisations are likely to be at the lower end of the scale.
  • With experience, you can progress to a salary of around £25,000 to £40,000.
  • In certain senior-level roles, such as policy writing, you could earn a salary in the range of £40,000 to £60,000.

A car or car allowance is common.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

You'll generally work 9am to 5pm, with some extra hours and weekend work necessary for special events. Flexible working is often possible in local government departments.

What to expect

  • Although the role is office based, approximately half of your time will be spent inspecting recycling sites, attending meetings and giving presentations to schools and community groups. In community organisations, time will be spent working with volunteers.
  • The role involves contact with a range of people, from young children to councillors and chief executive officers.
  • Self-employment/freelance work is unlikely as the nature of the role means that the majority of recycling officers are employed by local authorities, with a small number employed in the private or charity sector.
  • This is a varied, challenging and visible role, involving media contact and public speaking. However, the demands of specific jobs vary according to local and national policy and type of authority. Generally, recycling officer roles involve a high degree of autonomy.
  • Travel within a working day is frequent.

Qualifications

You won't need a degree or HND to become a recycling officer. Experience, personal qualities and knowledge of current environmental, waste management and recycling legislation is just as important as academic qualifications.

However, some employers may look for degrees or HNDs. Relevant, useful subjects include:

  • biology
  • civil or structural engineering
  • earth sciences
  • environmental science, either biological or physical
  • materials science/technology.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not essential, but may be helpful, particularly in the area of waste or environmental management.

Search postgraduate courses in waste management.

The Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM) has full details of postgraduate qualifications you can take and what's required to become a chartered waste professional.

Skills

You'll need to show:

  • practical and creative problem-solving ability
  • strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • presentation skills
  • the ability to manage pressure and prioritise your workload
  • organisational and planning skills
  • an awareness of environmental issues, including an understanding of recycling legislation
  • the ability to work independently
  • a full driving licence will be essential for many recycling officer posts.

Work experience

It's essential to gain some relevant practical experience before applying to most advertised posts, which can take the form of either voluntary or paid work in a related area such as community work.

Gaining experience working for your local authority, especially within the recycling department, will be particularly helpful for your application.

Schemes such as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) can provide you with valuable experience in conservation and environmental projects.

Becoming a member of a relevant organisation or professional institution, such as CIWM, may present you with excellent opportunities to network. If you're studying for a relevant degree, choosing a dissertation or assignment that is linked to an employer may be a good way of building contacts and finding opportunities to gain experience.

Employers

Local authorities are the main employers of recycling officers. The majority of posts are permanent and full time, although you may initially be employed on a fixed-term contract or part-time basis.

Other types of employers include:

  • community recycling organisations - good opportunities for gaining entry-level experience
  • national consultancy firms - advice on environmental, workplace equipment and occupational health and safety risks
  • organisations - such as the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP)
  • private waste management companies - handling waste and recycling for their clients
  • recycling charities
  • regulatory agencies - such as the Environment Agency (EA).

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

You'll complete most of your training on the job but can also access a variety of external courses and qualifications, such as those provided by CIWM, as part of its Structured Learning and Development Scheme (SLD).

The University of Central Lancashire (UClan) runs a Centre for Waste Management, which carries out research and offers consultancy services. The centre also delivers training courses that are useful for professional development.

WRAP, which works with governments, businesses and communities to deliver initiatives that reduce waste and increase sustainable solutions, runs several events and workshops each year. Topics include food waste and local authority information dissemination.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important, and if you're a member of CIWM you'll be expected to carry out a minimum of 30-hours of CPD each year. This can be made up of a variety of activities including attending seminars, courses, events and conferences, supervised research, technical writing or structured reading of relevant trade press.

If you're interested in undertaking some postgraduate study in waste management, your employer may support you and possibly provide some funding.

Career prospects

Growth in this sector is strong, as local authorities and private companies strive to comply with national waste management requirements and global targets. As a result, there are more job opportunities and a more structured path of progression. The most common way to progress is to move into a management role and then to increase your level of seniority. 

Since generally, recycling officers work within a team specialising in one particular aspect of the role, such as enforcement or community education, you could choose to move from this into a broader waste management role. Another option is to move into a senior operational role, where you'll have a greater focus on policy.

Keeping up to date with changes in legislation and industry developments, through resources such as The ENDS Report and LetsRecycle.com can help you stay informed and identify new opportunities. 

With much of the recycling collection contracted out to private companies, private consultancy is a growing field. With substantial experience, it may also be possible, to move into freelance environmental consultancy work.

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