The main function of a recycling officer is to promote the importance of recycling within the local community by improving existing recycling facilities and developing strategies to meet local and national objectives.
Those who enter this profession will implement recycling initiatives and collect information regarding current efforts and projects. Based on this data, they will write and submit reports and make presentations to keep higher authorities informed on the effectiveness of ongoing schemes.
Recycling officers guide and develop the environmental and waste reduction policies of local authorities which include county, district, borough and metropolitan councils. They achieve this by creating and delivering educational programmes and organising local community and media liaison initiatives. Often they are also in charge of handling the budget for recycling schemes in their area and making sure that every project and facility adheres to regulatory and statutory requirements.
The function of the recycling officer has increased in importance in recent years, at least to some extent due to government targeting initiatives for minimising domestic and industrial waste.
The typical starting salaries for a recycling officer range from £19,000 to £28,000, although these are likely to be lower in some smaller community organisations. Typical salaries at senior level, with 10 to 15 years of experience, range from £28,000 to £42,000. In certain senior-level roles, such as policy writing, salaries in the range of £40,000 to £60,000 may be possible.
There is a national local government salary structure, but the level of appointment depends on each local authority.
- stressing the great importance of recycling to the local community and media
- encouraging households as well as businesses to recycle more
- setting up new recycling programmes
- supervising and expanding existing programmes
- monitoring the use of facilities
- strategic planning for the management and continuing development of recycling
- evaluating expense and efficiency of current programmes
- introducing new and innovative programmes to maximise resources and lower expenses
- collecting data, compiling statistics and drafting reports
- controlling budgets, evaluating tenders and preparing funding bids
- counselling and supporting local community organisations
- creating a recycling infrastructure
- preparing, managing and keeping track of business contracts
- managing and promoting initiatives to encourage the support and collaboration of the community by way of advertising and publicity campaigns
- researching the advantages of collection, transport and processing methods against the savings made in energy and natural resources
- supervising the process of collection programmes for recyclable treatment facilities and composting process plants
- complying with the most recent recycling legislation and EU regulations
- advising local organisations and businesses on waste disposal and recycling initiatives
- recruiting and training volunteers in local community organisations
Almost any degree discipline is suitable for entry into the profession, although a relevant qualification in a scientific subject, for example environmental science, earth sciences, biology, chemistry or materials science might be preferred.
A postgraduate qualification in waste/environmental management may also be beneficial, particularly for graduates without a suitable first degree.
Some employers may require you to have a BTEC, HNC or degree in waste management or environmental sciences; however, this is not necessarily essential for those who have job-related experience, such as:
- in community recycling or environmental projects (as a paid staff member or volunteer)
- as a technician or team leader in the waste management industry
- good communication and people skills
- confident presentation skills
- management and leadership ability
- the ability to analyse and interpret figures
- report-writing skills
- the ability to organise, prioritise and meet deadlines
- budget awareness
- a keen interest in the environment
Recycling officers work standard office hours, nine to five Monday to Friday, with random additional hours if they are setting up new schemes, need to be present at evening meetings or are running publicity events. Flexitime working is often possible in local government departments.
Approximately 50 per cent of time is spent inspecting recycling sites, attending meetings and giving presentations to schools and community groups. Having access to a car is typically a necessity. In community organisations time will be spent working with volunteers. The job will require communication with a wide range of people, from young children to councillors and Chief Executive Officers.
Self-employment/freelance work is unlikely due to the unpredictability of the work schedule. Absence from home at night is occasional and international work or travel is uncommon. Generally, recycling officer roles involve a high degree of autonomy.
Apprenticeships in Sustainable Resource Management provide a good preparation for this career. Entry requirements for the apprenticeships are at the discretion of the recruiting company, however, there are no formal skills requirements and anyone aged 16 or over and not in full time education can apply. Candidates with higher grades are more likely to be successful.
To find out more about volunteering or work experience opportunities in your community, contact a local community recycling group, or your local council's recycling officer. To find out more about apprenticeship programmes, visit the National Apprenticeship Service website at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
As you move on through this career, one could work for local authorities, private waste and recycling contractors, community recycling groups or environmental charities. Jobs are advertised in the local, national and industry press, on recycling websites, local authority websites and by specialist recruitment job agencies.
With experience you could advance into area or senior management. You could also move into waste management, environmental project management or freelance work as an environmental consultant.
You will typically develop your necessary skills on the job, and may additionally take some formal training programmes or work-based qualifications. With practical experience, you may additionally choose to study for postgraduate qualifications in waste management, sustainable waste management or environmental engineering.
Recycling officers are primarily employed by local authorities (county, district, borough and metropolitan councils) to reduce domestic and industrial waste by increasing what is reused. However, there may also be positions available with charitable and educational establishments.
Rebecca Weymouth-Wood is 36 years old and is the Recycling and Waste Minimisation Officer with Cambridge City Council.
What jobs did you have before you became a recycling officer and how did they help you prepare for your job?
Starting with the most recent:
- Waste Partnership officer at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Waste Partnership. This taught me a lot about waste and helped me understand the working of both collection and disposal authorities plus I developed good organisational time and project management skills.
- Temporary Recycling Officer at Fenland District Council. This position gave me vital first hand operational experience and knowledge of the recycling and waste services that are provided by a collection authority Sales associate.
- Staples Office Store. After being at University this retail work developed my customer service skills.
- Volunteering at an environmental charity doing business environmental audits and office work. Volunteering meant I could do something in line with my interests, get experience working in an office environment and show future employers my keenness to enter this field.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I didn’t aim at becoming a recycling officer, as it is quite a specific role and there are many variations of this at local councils. I just knew I wanted a role in local government waste management and was prepared to be flexible. Straight out of University, I found it hard to get any related work as I didn’t have the experience. My volunteer work and securing the short term contract at Fenland District Council (via an organisation called Student Force) was key.
Becoming a chartered waste manager by joining the Chartered Instituted of Waste Management (CIWM) and attending the courses provided by the Waste and Resources Action programme (WRAP) can be very beneficial if you are already in a similar role and want to progress.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
The job is varied, but 80 per cent of my time is office based. Some time each day is devoted to emails (especially urgent ones from residents) and payment of invoices. Additional office work involves projects or campaigns that are in progress. Often there will be site visits to assess neighbourhood recycling programmes or to check on the condition of local recycling points.
37 hours a week Monday to Friday is the norm but weekend work is expected and often increases in the summer, when attending outdoor events. There is no payment for this, so you take time off in lieu. In addition we work on a flexi-time system, meaning as long as you do the 37 hours over the course of the week you can work the hours that best suits your schedule. If you have accrued overtime you can have time off later.
Working closely with others in the team is crucial. For me this includes our communications officer and a recycling technician for trouble shooting problems with collections. I also need to liaise with the crew management, street cleansing staff, and our customer service department. There are also regular meetings with neighbouring authorities to support and learn from each other and run mutually beneficial projects. I work in the waste strategy team with four people and we share an office with the commercial waste team. We are based at the council depot, with all the operational staff and collection vehicles, which is not glamorous but it makes communication between office and operations easier.
What do you think are some of the best character traits a person considering a career as a recycling officer could have?
Having a genuine interest in waste and recycling is a big bonus. Organisational, communication and people skills are important in addition to being able to work well with colleagues and residents. You need willingness to learn on the job and the flexibility to adapt to and accept change.
What do you like about being a recycling officer?
I like the fact that you can see tangible evidence that what you are doing makes a difference both to the residents and also environmentally. Many of the colleagues I work with have a positive attitude to their work and genuinely care about what they do. Improving services in the city and working with these types of thoughtful people make for a pleasant working environment.
Are there things about the job that sometimes you don't like?
It is always tricky to manage everyday tasks versus progression of the projects and annual objectives. There is also a lot of inaccurate information and negative attention in the media about waste and recycling that can easily undo the good work you do to get residents using the services properly.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a recycling officer?
Jobs such as these can be popular, with many people applying for the same position, so build up your experience any way you can. Volunteer at your local city council and keep applying.
When attending interviews make sure you understand and can competently explain the three R’S (reduce, re-use, recycle). Waste management is now resource management so ensure you understand the wider environmental benefits of good waste management and recycling. It is no longer just about landfill avoidance. If you have not worked for local government before, read up about how it all works!