Profile of an occupation – recycling and waste management technician

The coronavirus pandemic has also impacted on occupations and sectors which do not enjoy a high degree of public perception. Recycling and waste management technicians, who maintain the waste disposal system, have been facing new and different requirements during the crisis. This article also presents the three further training occupations which make up the family of technical environmental occupations.

Using a bunker crane to sort waste

The waste management sector is a key industry

Waste management is also of great social significance outside times of pandemic. If the waste disposal system collapses, diseases threaten to spread. For this reason, recycling and waste management technicians are considered key workers alongside their colleagues employed in the other three technical environmental occupations (see below).

The effects of the crisis have left a clear mark on waste disposal companies. Although amounts of commercial and industrial waste have fallen, there has been a considerable rise in the volume of waste produced by private households. A growth in domestic consumption has caused an increase in residual and packaging waste, the delivery service offered by restaurants being one case in point. Household waste is now less likely to be correctly sorted because the capacity of dustbins is often exceeded. This means that other containers are being used instead. More private households and commercial enterprises are taking the opportunity to clear out their cellars, attics or shops. In some cases, this has led to a huge rise in deliveries to waste depots. The burgeoning quantities of medical waste being generated by vaccination facilities, such as large numbers of syringes and hypodermic needles, are posing particular requirements with regard to disposal.

Professional disposal

Recycling and waste management technicians identify and investigate waste and allocate it to the right disposal systems. They manage all the waste treatment processes that take place at specialist waste companies, at public collection depots, and at recycling and waste processing plants. They ascertain which articles can be reused and determine the waste that needs to be disposed of. These technicians operate, supervise, inspect, maintain and repair plants which sort, separate and burn rubbish. Glass, tin plate and paper are, for instance, sold on as secondary raw materials. By way of contrast, construction rubble and hazardous waste must be stored at special sites. Recycling and waste management technicians inspect these locations regularly. They analyse seepage water and conduct measurements to ensure that no harmful substances are escaping. They are also responsible for providing waste separation containers at collection points and for arranging for these to be emptied regularly.

Special term – Material flow

Material flow is the whole of the journey undergone by a particular material. It encompasses extraction or production, subsequent processing and sustainable recycling to create a raw or reusable material, right up to its disposal.

The trend towards digital recycling management

Companies frequently prefer to use primary raw materials rather than recycled resources. One of the reasons for this is a lack of information regarding where and when recyclable waste is produced, which kinds of waste are expensive to dispose of, the material composition of products, and the way in which products must be disassembled and recycled. A digital recycling management system uses tools such as sensors, analytical software and machine-based learning to record data and pass on this information right down the production chain. This means that recycling companies know precisely which products they are dealing with.

Four technical environmental occupations

Three further occupations make up the family of technical environmental occupations alongside the occupation of recycling and waste management technician.
Sewage engineering technicians work at Germany’s 9,300 sewage plants. They process waste water in order to ensure that it can be returned to the water cycle without causing harm to either humans or the environment.
The function of pipe, sewer and industrial service technicians is to ensure the safe reprocessing of waste water produced by local governments and industry. They are in charge of checking and maintaining one of the country’s most important infrastructures.
Water supply engineering technicians process water from wells, rivers and lakes in order to secure availability of drinking water of the proper quality. Water supply forms part of the critical infrastructure.

This group of occupations emerged from the occupation of “supply and disposal technician” in 2002. Joint training in core skills takes place over a period of 15 months. As of the cut-off date of 31.12.2019, there were a total of 2,619 trainees across all four occupations. A comparison of overall figures from 2009 onwards shows that training numbers in the technical environmental occupations have risen significantly since 2017 following a trough from 2012–2016 (cf. Figure 1). 45 percent of trainees undergo training in the public sector, where there are significant differences in the proportions of the four occupations (cf. Figure 2). Requirements in all four training occupations have changed since the most recent update of regulations. A screening carried out by BIBB, for example, revealed that increased deployment of digital technologies is having a particular impact in terms of making tasks in the training occupation of sewage engineering technician more demanding (cf. RANFT 2020). Preparations are currently ongoing to revise the occupations so as to bring them up to speed with regard to future requirements.

Source: BIBB “Trainee Data System”, survey as of 31 December each year

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At a glance

Recycling and waste management technician

  • Last updated: 2002
  • Duration of training: 3 years
  • Responsibility: Trade and industry/public sector
  • Training structure – training occupation with specialisms 
    • Waste recycling and treatment
    • Waste removal and treatment
    • Logistics, waste collection and removal operations
  • DQR reference level: 4
  • Advanced vocational training: Certified senior specialist for recycling, waste management and public cleaning
  • BIBB website page on the occupation
  • Video about the work of recycling and waste management technicians during the pandemic: https://youtu.be/PMhG2TpyUec



RANFT, S.: Berufsbildung 4.0 – für die digitalisierte Arbeitswelt von morgen. Der Beruf "Fachkraft für Abwassertechnik" im Screening, Bonn 2020 – URL: www.bibb.de/veroeffentlichungen/de/publication/show/16434


(All links as of: 18/05/2021)

(Compiled by Arne Schambeck)

Sources: Association of Local Government Companies, Federal Employment Agency.


Translation from the German original (published in BWP 2/2021): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin