The Truck Driver Shortage in the Waste Industry – And How to Retain Drivers

July 13, 2023
5 min read

As the population continues to grow, garbage collection and disposal become increasingly essential for the public. Unfortunately, this growing demand is not being met and we’re experiencing a truck driver shortage in the waste industry.

Over the past few years, neighborhoods across the US have reported shortages in garbage truck drivers, leading to issues with timely pickups. Why is it so hard to find drivers, and how can your business increase truck driver retention? This article discusses the reasons for the shortage and provides solutions on how to retain drivers.

The Truck Driver Shortage: Why the Waste Industry is Struggling to Find Drivers

In 2021, the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) released a report about the growing challenge of hiring and retaining drivers in the solid waste management public and private sectors. According to the report, the causes of the truck driver shortage are multi-faceted. Here are some of the biggest contributors to this deficit.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

The number one culprit for the truck driver shortage in the waste industry is the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic had significant impacts on the waste collection industry and made it difficult to maintain services due to:

  • The Great Resignation: Also known as the Big Quit or the Great Reshuffle, this economic phenomenon is defined as a sudden increase in voluntary resignations spurred by COVID-19. 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record 50.5 million people quit their jobs nationally in 2022. Some of the factors that drove the great resignation include lack of job security, stress and anxiety, lack of a work-life balance, and desire for more fulfillment. 

That said, this trend seems to be coming to an end as the number of workers who have voluntarily quit their jobs in 2023 has sharply declined. Still, the effects of this mass exodus can be felt.

  • Increased residential waste tonnage: As the government tightened social distancing rules, most companies allowed their employees to work from home. This meant that more people were eating in their homes on a regular basis, leading to an increase in garbage that needed collecting on a residential level. Essentially, there was a rise in demand for residential waste services at the same time the industry was facing shortages. 
  • Pandemic era relief: Extended stimulus and unemployment benefit checks didn’t encourage workers to go back to the workforce, resulting in a minimal reduction in garbage tonnage in neighborhoods. 

It’s clear that both public and private waste collectors are facing a lot of challenges in meeting the demand for trash collection in the wake of the pandemic. 

Competition for Drivers

Aside from mass resignations, another thing brought about by the pandemic is competition for drivers from other industries like construction, online retailers like Amazon, and food and grocery delivery services. At the peak of the pandemic, the demand for home deliveries of food, groceries, and other items increased. 

According to Marylou Berg, the Director of Communication for the City of Rockville, this has created a lot of competition. Because these competing industries offer more lucrative pay, drivers are choosing these jobs over ones in other industries like waste management. For instance, the average salary of a delivery truck driver in the US is $50,185 while a garbage truck driver makes an average of $44,492.

Furthermore, working in the waste industry is often a physically demanding job. Most garbage truck drivers must be able to lift and carry heavy loads, as well as maneuver large vehicles in tight spaces, making these jobs more difficult than delivery services. The industry has also been slow to adopt automated technologies that can alleviate some of these burdens.

Stringent Driver Requirements

To earn a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), garbage truck drivers must meet the requirements, which generally include passing a written exam, taking courses, and undergoing medical and physical exams. 

These types of requirements are stringent and take time to complete, which can be a deterrent for potential drivers who may not have the resources or time to meet the necessary qualifications.

Aging Workforce

An aging workforce has been identified as one cause of the driver shortage, with an increasing number of experienced workers retiring.

The average age of a professional truck driver is 47, and most of these drivers have been in the industry for more than two decades. With an aging workforce and fewer young people entering the field, it's easy to understand why there is a shortage of garbage truck drivers.

What Is the Solution? How to Retain Truck Drivers

With so many industry challenges, what can you do to retain garbage truck drivers? Here are some solutions you can consider implementing to ensure your drivers are satisfied:

Higher Wages & Benefits

Compensation is an important factor when it comes to employee retention. There is a direct link between higher pay and higher retention rates. Research shows 37% of workers who left their jobs in 2021 cited low pay as the primary reason.

Competitiveness in the trucking industry has given workers the power to expect better pay. As a result, it has become necessary for waste collection companies to offer competitive wages in order to retain workers.

Apart from offering higher wages, you can offer other perks to help with retention. These include flexible scheduling, medical benefits, and retirement plans. Such benefits improve morale among drivers and increase their loyalty to the company.

Improve Safety

Today, employees are more concerned with their workplace safety than ever before. To prevent accidents in the garbage collection industry, companies must take steps to ensure the safety of their drivers on the job.

Here are some tips to enhance the safety of your drivers:

  • Provide high-visibility clothing: High-visibility wear makes it easy for other drivers to spot garbage truck drivers and garbage collectors as they do their duties. This is especially useful during harsh weather conditions where visibility is greatly reduced.
  • Enforce regular maintenance checks: Regularly check vehicles for any signs of disrepair or malfunctioning parts to prevent accidents due to faulty equipment.
  • Provide safety training: Train your drivers to equip them with safety knowledge and skills, such as proper lifting techniques and best practices when driving in traffic.
  • Provide safety gear: Safety gear helps prevent injuries and reduces injury severity. Hard hats, steel-toed boots, and safety sunglasses are some of the most important pieces of safety equipment that drivers must have.

Operating Efficiently

Operating your business efficiently reduces the workload for drivers and helps keep your waste hauling business competitive. Operation management ensures the quick and efficient loading of trash trucks, leading to the timely completion of services.

To ensure smooth operations, it's important to have a well-organized and efficient system in place. Here are some tips to help streamline your operations:

  • Create an efficient loading system: Design a loading system that is quick and easy to use for your drivers.
  • Create clear route instructions: Provide clear instructions for each route so drivers know exactly where they need to go and when. This will help them stay on schedule and minimize any delays.
  • Invest in heavy machinery: Invest in heavier equipment, such as grapple trucks, to make loading and unloading garbage containers easier.

Invest in Automation

Garbage collection is physically demanding. Automation can help reduce the physical strain for drivers and increase retention rates. While technologies such as robotic side loading technology require a large initial investment, they reduce the physical demand of loading and unloading freight. This technology also reduces the risk of injury as drivers can stay in the cab and use a mechanical arm to move containers. 

Aside from robotics, software can also greatly benefit drivers by simplifying your hauling operations. For instance, real-time updates on issues, routes, and schedules can ensure that drivers are working as efficiently as possible. This can reduce stress and wasted time on the job, which can improve driver satisfaction. 

Flexible Opportunities

Trash truck drivers work long hours and take many solitary journeys. Allowing them more time to spend with their families, pursue hobbies, or take on additional work is a great way to retain them and help them stay motivated. 

Providing your truck drivers flexible hours, such as shift pickups or full-time positions that offer weekends off, can make a big difference in their work experience. 

How Waste Management Technology Can Help

Another way to minimize the impact of the driver shortage on your waste hauling operation is to use a good waste management solution like Basestation

Waste management software is designed to simplify operations for waste haulers. It allows you to manage your business from a centralized place, tracking trucks and assets in real-time while keeping accurate records of routes and pickups.

By streamlining time-consuming tasks and administrative work, waste management software optimizes productivity. In doing so, it enables you to manage your operations better, prevent strain on your driver workforce, and do more with fewer employees so that you can better navigate the driver shortage crisis.

Better Fleet Management

Managing fleet operations manually is quite taxing and can minimize output. Fleet management solutions help you stay competitive by ensuring your fleet runs optimally and efficiently. 

These systems can provide real-time vehicle tracking, giving you detailed insights into the performance of each truck in your fleet. This means you can make informed decisions about where to reallocate resources or when to replace an aging truck.

They also make communication and collaboration easy for drivers. Through driver apps, drivers can receive instructions and updates in real-time, reducing the need for paperwork, back-and-forth text messages, and distracting calls while on the job. 

Improved Routing

Having an efficient route mapped with real-time data improves efficiency and saves you time and money in the long run.

Waste management software with route optimization for garbage trucks ensures that your drivers are always on the best routes possible. With it, your drivers can avoid getting stuck in traffic jams, taking wrong turns, or driving back-and-forth unnecessarily. It maps out the quickest, and most direct routes for collections so that drivers can get their jobs done more efficiently.

Route optimization software is also a great tool for a greener future. It allows drivers to minimize their environmental impact by choosing the most energy-efficient routes. 

Moreover, with real-time updates, you can modify routes as and when needed to ensure customer requirements are being met.

Streamline Back-Office Work

Garbage collection involves many time-consuming tasks, including driver management, scheduling, customer billing and invoicing, and more. Technology can streamline and even automate some of these tasks, thereby improving your bottom line.

For instance, waste management software enables you to set up driver schedules and routes in minutes rather than hours.

It can also automate your invoicing and billing process to reduce time spent on administrative tasks and ensure you get paid on-time. In addition, it makes it easy to make adjustments to invoices on the fly to ensure customers are billed correctly.

Real-Time Updates

A waste management solution like Basestation provides real-time updates and notifications. These notifications are important as they instantly alert dispatchers to issues that need to be addressed and enable them to keep track of the status of each drivers’ collections.  

Drivers can easily log updates on an app and receive notifications on route modifications, pickups, and more. This functionality saves a lot of time as there’s no need to write down information in a notebook, type out text messages or make phone calls to provide status updates.


Driver retention is important now more than ever for waste management companies. With the right tools and strategies in place, you can ensure that your drivers are satisfied and that your operations can run smoothly despite the driver shortage. 

Looking for a software solution that will help you save time and stay organized? Basestation is the perfect choice for all your waste management needs. Our software offers various features to help you manage drivers, vehicles, and operational costs more efficiently. Try it today!