Garbage Man Day organizers target public perception, stereotypes in weeklong celebration

Dive Brief:

  • Garbage Man Day, which officially took place on June 17, is being celebrated for an entire week this year to observe the often unsung heroes of garbage collection.
  • "I just want the people in the industry to be looked upon as heroes, instead of just lowlifes," said John Arwood, founder of Garbage Man Day and CEO of Arwood Waste, in an interview.
  • Arwood and other advocates have already worked to get municipalities and local governments to formally observe Garbage Man Day through social media and community efforts. Now, Arwood said he wants to work with Congress to make Garbage Man Day a nationally-recognized holiday.

Dive Insight:

One of the industry's biggest issues is that curbside collection of refuse ranks as the fifth most dangerous job in the U.S. With dozens of fatalities each year, it's no surprise that high-profile players in the industry make safety one of their most paramount issues

Since so much of the risk inherent to being a refuse collector comes from traffic incidents, one of the most practical strategies that the industry can adopt is trying to shape public opinion. Many haulers are already seen as heroes in their communities — especially among children — but some stigma still exists. That's part of what Garbage Man Day is about: Recognizing the important work that waste collectors perform to slowly shift public opinion to a more positive light.

"Like, if you go into some stores, they'll give a fireman of a policeman a free cup of coffee," Arwood said. "I think that if a garbage man goes in there, they should get a free cup of coffee, too."

One of the more concrete ways to measure how much public perception is shifting is to look at how rapidly Slow Down to Get Around laws are being adopted. According to a list that NWRA maintains, there are 16 states with laws on the books, with Missouri being the newest addition to the list.

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