Previous work experience and an awareness of environmental issues are essential if you wish to pursue a career in recycling and waste management

As a recycling officer you'll plan and develop environmental and waste reduction policies. You'll do this through the management of local recycling schemes and the creation and delivery of educational programmes, and by organising community 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 for 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

  • Recycling officers start on salaries of around £19,000 to £25,000. Salaries in some community organisations are likely to be at the lower end of the scale.
  • With experience, recycling officers can progress to salaries of around £28,000 to £45,000.
  • In certain senior-level roles, such as policy writing, salaries in the range of £40,000 to £60,000 may be possible.

A car or car allowance is common.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically 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

  • The role is office based but 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 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

It is not essential to have 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, and relevant subjects that are useful 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 for postgraduate courses in waste management.

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

Skills

You will need:

  • practical and creative problem-solving ability;
  • strong communication and interpersonal skills;
  • presentation skills;
  • the ability to manage pressure and prioritise workloads;
  • organisational and planning skills;
  • an awareness of environmental issues, including an understanding of recycling legislation;
  • enthusiasm and a proactive outlook;
  • the ability to work independently;
  • a driving licence is essential for many posts.

Work experience

Relevant pre-entry practical experience is essential for most advertised posts. This can be either voluntary or paid work in a related area such as community work, particularly focusing on recycling or work within your local authority. Your local recycling officer or community recycling organisation may be able to help with available opportunities.

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 are 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

Most recycling officers work for local authorities where the majority of posts are permanent and full time, although you may initially be employed on a fixed-term contract or part-time basis.

Waste minimisation officer jobs, which also cover recycling functions, are available in unitary councils, metropolitan or borough councils, and county and district councils. Community recycling organisations are another vacancy source that offers good entry-level experience.

Private integrated waste management companies work in partnership with customers to help minimise the financial and environmental impacts of their waste. This can include collection and processing schemes for recyclables as well as green waste composting. Such companies also recruit recycling education staff, to advise their clients.

National consultancy firms also offer advice on environmental, workplace equipment and occupational health and safety risks and help their commercial clients meet and maintain standards.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Most training for recycling officers is completed on the job but a variety of external courses and qualifications are available. CIWM offers Structured Learning and Development (SLD) to its members. This provides a framework for training and helps you to understand the skills and knowledge that you can develop. The CIWM accredits and approves a number of training courses that can count towards SLD.

There is also a Recycling Managers Training programme, which is a short course offered by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN). The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has an advisory role on the course and it covers a range of waste and recycling topics. For details see UCLAN Recycling Managers Training Course.

WRAP runs several events and workshops each year that cover subjects such as reusing and recycling bulky waste, communicating effectively on packaging recycling and commercial recycling collection services. For more information, see WRAP: Events.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important and if you are a member of CIWM you will 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. You may also decide to complete a relevant Masters in waste management, which may be supported and perhaps partly funded by your employer.

Career prospects

A more structured career path for recycling officers is developing as local authorities now have to comply with national waste management requirements. 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.

Recycling officers generally work within teams specialising in one particular aspect of the role, e.g. enforcement or community education. People in this role usually progress into broader waste management and senior operational roles with a greater focus on policy.

As local authorities contract out both kerbside recycling and 'bring sites' to private companies, private consultancy is a rapidly growing field. It may also be possible, with substantial experience, to move into freelance environmental consultancy work.

Alternatively, you may choose to specialise and work for regulatory agencies, such as the Environment Agency (EA), or organisations such as Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).