Handling responsibility, an interest in the environment and sustainability and the ability to understand complex legislation are just some of the skills you'll need as a waste management officer

In the role of waste management officer, you'll organise and manage waste disposal, collection and recycling facilities. You may also be responsible for waste treatment and street cleaning operations. Some posts combine waste management and recycling functions, while others split them into separate jobs.

Waste management companies have to balance providing the best value service for their clients with safe waste disposal (in line with government regulations), increases in landfill tax, packaging regulations and recycling targets.

Responsibilities

As a waste management officer, you'll need to:

  • oversee waste management schemes, such as at landfill sites
  • supervise the transportation of waste to ensure that it takes place efficiently without contaminating air, land or water sources
  • assist with the development, promotion and implementation of new waste disposal schemes
  • ensure compliance with current legislation in the transportation, handling and disposal of waste
  • formulate and control budgets for waste disposal
  • collate statistics and compile reports often to strict deadlines
  • monitor the quality and performance of waste services, including contract management of external providers
  • assist with the development of information and promotional materials
  • aim to meet waste reduction and recycling targets
  • deal with enquiries and complaints from members of the public both in person and by phone or email
  • investigate and follow up claims of the illegal dumping of waste and work with other waste regulation enforcement staff
  • identify and target areas with fly tipping or black bag problems, working to find solutions to eliminate these
  • consult with residents, community groups, councillors, housing associations and traders' associations about waste management issues, identify their requirements and provide appropriate solutions
  • develop research projects and contribute to the activities of national groups concerned with waste disposal.

At a senior level, you're likely to also have responsibility for multi million-pound budgets.

Salary

  • Starting salaries range between £22,000 and £25,000.
  • With several years' experience and at senior level, you could earn £28,000 to £45,000.
  • Operations managers or chartered waste managers can earn £45,000 or more.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically 9am to 5pm. Facilities are open seven days a week, so weekend work is a possibility. Those in private industries 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

  • 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.
  • Travel may be more common if you work for a private international company.
  • 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.

Qualifications

A degree in waste management or similar is often preferred. Other relevant subjects include:

  • biological or biochemical sciences
  • chemical and physical sciences
  • civil/structural/mechanical engineering
  • earth sciences
  • environmental science
  • geography and/or geology.

Entry is possible with an HND in a waste management, environmental protection or a subject related to environmental management.

There is no standard route into this role, although most new entrants are graduates.

For details about a new waste management apprenticeship scheme, see Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM) - Apprenticeships.

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.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • 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, environment and sustainability issues
  • good IT and general office skills
  • a driving licence.

Work experience

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. 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're studying for a relevant degree, choosing a dissertation that is linked to an employer can be a good way to network and gain experience.

Find community recycling networks in your area and ask about voluntary work opportunities. Working on recycling or environmental projects can help you build experience and develop useful contacts.

You can gain a useful knowledge of the industry and show commitment to the role, through CIWM membership.

Employers

There are more than 370 waste collection authorities (WCAs) operating across England and Wales (within local authorities). These employ the majority of waste management officers.

Jobs can also be found with private waste management firms and consultancies, industrial organisations, environmental agencies and non-profit-making conservation projects.

Volunteering positions and significant career opportunities can be found in organisations such as these:

The Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership has been created to ensure there is a skilled workforce, now and into the future. The partnership is comprised of 28 leading organisations within the energy and utilities sector, which have agreed to collaborate at the highest level on two to three key priorities a year.

As environmental legislation becomes more stringent, large companies and organisations such as the NHS and higher education institutions are creating new posts for waste management professionals.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Continuing professional development (CPD) is encouraged, and training may be partly or fully financed by employers.

You can undertake further training in all or any of the following:

  • general management
  • technical skills
  • changes in legislation
  • IT skills
  • finance
  • budget management.

Training is delivered by a number of different providers. For example, CIWM provides a Structured Learning & Development (SLD) programme, which is designed to assist new graduates in acquiring the practical skills required to develop their career in the industry. It offers a range of qualifications, on topics such as waste and resource management, hazardous waste, waste legislation and landfill management.

Chartered status and membership is advantageous. There are several grades of membership, but chartered status is usually obtained when you have a relevant degree and at least four years' continuous experience, including structured training. As part of your application, you 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.

The Waste Management Industry Training and Advisory Board (WAMITAB) delivers a number of certificated training courses, including a Level 4 Certificate in Waste and Resource Management and Level 4 Diploma in Systems and Operations Management. The board also runs an Operator Competence scheme. In some cases, gaining an appropriate vocational qualification is a legal requirement.

Career prospects

Careers in the field have become increasingly structured, often attracting graduates with environmental degrees and an interest in waste management. Progression through specialist postgraduate study in this area is an option.

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.

Movement between the public and private sector is quite common and may provide opportunities for progression in your career. Changes and increases in legislation can also lead to the creation of new roles, for example in large organisations such as health services and universities. You may find opportunities in waste management regulatory bodies and in relevant governmental departments.

Progressing into an operational management job is another alternative, once you've gained several years of supervisory experience. 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.