Waste management officers organise and manage waste disposal, collection and recycling facilities. They may be responsible for waste treatment and street cleaning operations. Some posts combine waste management and recycling functions, while others split them into separate jobs.
The UK generates millions of tonnes of waste each year. It is the responsibility of the waste management industry to dispose of waste safely, with due consideration for the environment and whilst conforming to government regulations.
Waste management officers have to meet targets for waste reduction and recycling, in particular the European Union (EU) Landfill Directive which aims to reduce landfill waste.
Waste management officers work mainly for local authorities but can also be employed by private waste businesses, industrial organisations, environmental agencies, consultancies and non-profit-making conservation projects.
Tasks often include:
- overseeing waste management schemes, such as at landfill sites;
- supervising the transportation of waste to ensure that it takes place efficiently without contaminating air, land or water sources;
- assisting with the development, promotion and implementation of new waste disposal schemes;
- ensuring compliance with current legislation in the transportation, handling and disposal of waste;
- formulating and controlling the budget for waste disposal;
- collating statistics and compiling reports often to strict deadlines;
- monitoring the quality and performance of waste services, including contract management of external providers;
- assisting with the development of information and promotional materials;
- aiming to meet waste reduction and recycling targets;
- dealing with enquiries and complaints from members of the public both in person and by phone or email;
- investigating and following up claims of the illegal dumping of waste and working with other waste regulation enforcement staff;
- consulting with residents, community groups, councillors, housing associations and traders' associations about waste management issues, identifying their requirements and providing appropriate solutions;
- developing research projects and contributing to the activities of national groups concerned with waste disposal.
At senior levels, responsibility for multimillion-pound budgets is common.
- Starting salaries range between £22,000 and £25,000.
- The range of salaries at senior level or with several years' experience is £28,000 to £45,000.
- Operations managers or chartered waste managers can earn £45,000 or more.
Although broadly similar, salaries in private companies usually start lower but give much more scope for pay increases.
For those employed by local authorities, the salary structure varies depending on the grading of the post within the individual authority. Some London authorities may offer higher salaries.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are typically 9am to 5pm. Facilities are open seven days a week, so weekend work is a possibility. Those in private industry tend to work longer hours. You need to be fairly flexible when meeting with contractors, councillors and the public; overtime and flexi-time arrangements are likely in these circumstances. Career breaks, part-time work and job-shares are all possible within local government.
What to expect
- Jobs are available throughout the UK. Some private sector firms have European parent companies with jobs available abroad.
- Self-employment is sometimes possible. An environmental consultant with relevant expertise may be able to work in waste management on a freelance basis.
- The dress code is smart for the office and practical for work on-site.
- The ratio of male to female employees in the role is roughly equal.
- Much of the work is office-based, although the job also involves visiting contractors and facilities.
- Absence from home at night and overseas work are uncommon, although there may occasionally be a need to attend meetings or contribute to a project abroad.
- For those working for private international companies, travel is becoming more common.
A degree in waste management or similar is often preferred. Other relevant subjects include:
- chemical and physical sciences;
- geography and/or geology;
- environmental science;
- earth sciences;
- biological or biochemical sciences;
- civil/structural/mechanical engineering.
Entry is possible with a HND in a waste management, environmental protection or environmental management related subject.
There is no standard route into this role, although most new entrants are graduates.
Entry requirements have changed in recent years, due to specific waste management courses and an increase in environmental qualifications. While direct entry is common, some people move into this profession after working in the construction, haulage or quarrying industries or by specialising from a wider environmental role within a large organisation.
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification, for example an MSc or PgDip in Waste Management or Environmental Engineering, can be useful. Search for postgraduate courses in waste management.
You will need:
- the ability to grasp complex and dynamic legislation;
- the capacity to explain, apply and monitor such legislation;
- effective communication skills, both oral and written;
- patience and resilience;
- analytical, problem-solving and decision-making skills;
- leadership and management qualities;
- good organisational and administrative skills;
- an interest in, and understanding of, the environment and sustainability issues;
- good IT and general office skills.
A driving licence is essential.
Pre-entry work experience is often sought by employers so you should make the most of work experience placements arranged through your college or university.
Most advertised posts ask for experience, which can be paid or unpaid, full or part time. Many people start in the industry by working voluntarily on recycling or environmental projects, which helps them to build up contacts and get known. If there is a community recycling network in your area you may be able to contact them for a directory of relevant organisations.
You could also contact your local council and find out what work experience opportunities they offer. This will help you meet people and acquire the necessary understanding of current issues. If you are studying for a relevant degree, choosing a dissertation that is linked to an employer can be a good way to network and gain experience.
An excellent opportunity to gain knowledge of the industry, and something which many employers require, is membership of The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM). The CIWM has various levels of membership which are detailed on their website.
Most waste management officers are employed in waste planning, collection and disposal services operating within local authorities in the UK. There are over 370 Waste Collection Authorities (WCAs) operating within England and Wales.
Environmental and waste management consultancy services and private waste management firms are also significant employers. Many civil engineering consultancies have specialist divisions dealing with these issues. Those employed in this sector may have different job titles.
Also playing major roles in regulating waste and offering significant careers in this area are the:
Emphasis is currently being placed on providing best value services (largely as a result of new legislation on increased landfill tax, packaging regulations and recycling targets), and employment opportunities are expanding in response to this.
As environmental legislation has strengthened, large companies and organisations such as the National Health Service (NHS) and higher education institutions, such as universities, are creating new posts for waste management professionals.
In June 2014 the government launched the Energy and Efficiency Industrial Partnership; a three-year initiative aimed at targeting a skills shortage in the energy and utilities industry. The scheme, in which the government is partnering with 90 employers, will focus on how to meet the demand for new, innovative power and energy solutions, and build a more secure, sustainable economy for the future.
Look for job vacancies at:
- The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM)
- ENDS jobsearch
- Environment Jobs
- Guardian Jobs
- Local Government Jobs
- Materials Recycling World (MRW)
- Opportunities: The Public Sector Media
- Recycling and Waste World
- Renewable Energy Jobs
- Local authority websites.
Some recruitment agencies specialise in environmental jobs.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is encouraged, and training may be partly or fully financed by employers.
Further training can involve:
- general management courses;
- developing technical skills;
- keeping up to date with changes in legislation;
- improving IT skills;
- learning about finance issues;
- controlling budgets.
Training is delivered by a number of different providers. For example, a Structured Learning & Development (SLD) programme, which is designed to assist new graduates in acquiring the practical skills required to develop their career in industry is provided by The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM).
SLD also offers a Certificate in Wastes and Resource Management and a comprehensive range of specialist courses on topics such as industrial hazardous waste regulations and landfill gas management.
Chartered status and membership is advantageous. There are several grades of membership, but chartered status is usually obtained when the candidate has a relevant degree and has at least four years' continuous experience, including structured training. Applicants must give a presentation before a professional interview panel. Full members of the CIWM are able to use the title chartered waste manager and the letters MCIWM after their name.
For some operational management posts, it is a legal requirement that you gain an appropriate vocational qualification (a QCF award, certificate or diploma) followed by a Certificate of Technical Competence (CoTC), awarded by the Waste Management Industry Training and Advisory Board (WAMITAB). In these cases, this training will be automatically offered by your employer.
Careers in waste management have become increasingly structured and graduates with environmental degrees and an interest in waste management are now entering the job market. There are a range of specialist postgraduate courses in this subject area.
Promotion can lead to the role of team leader within a local authority. You can then progress to become area manager or head of waste management, although this will depend on your area of interest and strengths. As opportunities are generally quite limited, relocation for career advancement may be necessary.
Another way to progress in your career is to move to a private sector company, e.g. contractors and environmental consultancies. This industry is growing, and roles are becoming more specialised. There is quite a lot of movement between the main players: local authorities, private companies and the Environment Agency (EA).
As legislation increases, new roles are arising in large organisations such as health services and universities. Opportunities may also arise in waste management regulatory bodies and in relevant governmental departments.
After several years of supervisory experience, it may be possible to progress into operational management jobs. At senior level, this can involve responsibility for budgets running into many millions of pounds as well as the strategic management of resources and people.