Recycling Operative

Job Description:

Recycling operatives collect, sort and recycle materials like glass, paper and plastics from homes and businesses.

Job Category:
Environmental Industry

What you will do:

In your day-to-day tasks you may:

  • collect recyclable materials
  • load and unload recycling collection vehicles
  • use lifting machinery to help move and sort waste
  • pick materials from a moving conveyor
  • sort waste and remove non-recyclable items
  • inspect materials for any contamination
  • keep your work area clean and maintain equipment


You’ll need:

  • physical skills like movement, coordination and dexterity
  • knowledge of public safety and security
  • knowledge of recycling processes
  • to be able to carry out basic tasks on a computer or hand-held device
  • the ability to operate and control equipment

As well as:

  • the ability to work well with others (teamwork skills)
  • to be flexible and open to change (adaptability skills)
  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
Illustration of employee looking at workspace

Entry Requirements:

To become a recycling operative, specific subjects are not typically required. Recycling operatives are responsible for sorting, processing, and handling recyclable materials at recycling centres or facilities. The qualifications for this role are often based on practical skills, physical fitness, and an understanding of recycling processes.

However, certain subjects and skills can be beneficial if you’re considering a career as a recycling operative. Here are some subjects that can be helpful:

  1. English Language: Effective communication skills, including reading and understanding instructions and safety guidelines, are important in this role.
  2. Mathematics: Basic math skills can be useful for tasks like measuring and recording weights, quantities, and keeping track of materials.
  3. Science: A foundational understanding of environmental science and the principles of recycling and waste management can be beneficial.
  4. Physical Education (PE): Recycling operatives often engage in physically demanding work, so being physically fit and having stamina can be an asset.

Post School

You can get into this job through:

  • an apprenticeship
  • applying directly

You can do an intermediate apprenticeship as a waste resource operative.

Direct Application
You can apply to companies directly if you’ve got relevant skills and experience, for example from working in waste collection.

You may have an advantage if you’ve had forklift truck training or can drive a large goods vehicle.

Career tips
An employer may give you training on the job, for example to get your large goods vehicle licence.

Working Hours and Environment:

Typically you could work 41 to 43 hours a week, occasionally including early mornings.

You could work at a waste recycling site or from a vehicle.

Your working environment may be dirty, physically demanding and outdoors in all weathers.

You may need to wear protective clothing.

Career Path & Progression:

With qualifications and experience you could move into a supervisory role at a waste collection site.