How to be Certified as a Waste Management Manager

Pixar's WALL-E imagined a world swamped in garbage, Square's Chrono Trigger presented a future industrial wasteland where people had entirely forgotten about plants, and Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? conceptualized casually discarded trash as something that almost seemed to grow of its own accord. Historians and writers alike, though, rarely focus on the individuals who deal with hazardous materials — and that's unfortunate given how important their work is. 

In this article, we will discuss one job that focuses on waste disposal, namely a waste management manager. We'll talk about their responsibilities, how to become one, and their various career paths.

Waste Management Manager and colleague

Job Duties & Responsibilities of a Waste Management Manager  

What happens when people don't properly dispose of hazardous substances? Bad things can happen, and it's a truth we've seen demonstrated throughout history. Over the space of 50 years in Japan, improper dumping led to what the Land of the Rising Sun would dub its four big pollution diseases. Storytellers have also warned us about the risks.  

At first glance, it almost seems silly to ask what a waste management manager does. A term such as "environmental management specialist" carries a bit of ambiguity, but a waste management manager simply oversees the disposal of, well, waste — right? While that assertion is true, there's a lot more to the position than simply tossing out unwanted materials. 

Waste disposal companies and any business that produces or must deal with hazardous materials needs to handle it according to certain regulatory guidelines. Waste management managers ensure that this gets done. They sit in a supervisory role overseeing the work of subordinates who perform specific onsite disposal tasks. In general, a waste disposal professional in a managerial role must perform the following: 

  • Manage project budgets 
  • Oversee subordinates fully, directing them and taking responsibility for their actions 
  • Ensure that related tasks get performed within a particular time period 
  • Review laboratory reports and communicate applicable findings 
  • Report to management 
  • Demonstrate a knowledge of applicable regulations and implement them in day-to-day operations 

Some tasks performed by a waste management professional will vary depending on the specific company. For example, those dealing with consumer recycling efforts will have to estimate applicable recycling rates. Managers in the power sector may have to follow proper procedures for dealing with radioactive waste. And employees in the disposal field may need to implement transportation logistics. 

Requirements to Become a Waste Management Manager  

Waste management standards are higher than those of other professions, and to become a waste management manager, you will absolutely need to have a degree. Graduation from a four-year college is a must, and most employers will prefer for you to have a degree in environmental science, business, or one of the hard sciences (e.g., biology, geology, chemistry).  

Additionally, perspective employers will want to ensure that you have specific skills related to waste management. Familiarity with the standards set by and requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Department of Energy will help. A waste management certification or a certification in an environment field also helps applicants stand out from the proverbial pack. NREPSM offers dozens of certifications in multiple environmental fields. While some are only available to professionals with multiple years of job experience, others are achievable by new graduates. Browse all of our certifications to see which is right for you! 

Finally, most employers will want more than a waste management certification; they're also looking for applicants with significant work experience. Organizations typically look for applicants with a minimum of five years of experience, and even then, they may require an oversight period of up to three years. 

Relevant Skills for Being a Waste Management Manager  

Though qualifications are important, becoming a successful waste management manager involves more than just education, experience, and certifications. People in these positions must possess a certain skill set, and the relevant talents will likely need to include the following: 

  • A team perspective and people skills. Waste management is less about you dealing with junk and more about ensuring efficiency, accuracy, and camaraderie from the people who will take care of said trash, chemicals, and contaminated substances. Working well with them and ensuring that they do the same with each other while they attend to their tasks is vital to helping the organization achieve its goals. 
  • The ability to remain organized in complex contexts. Time-sensitive tasks. Dangerous materials. Multiple employees. Mandatory legal compliance. A waste management manager must juggle all of these responsibilities day in and day out. 
  • The ability to manage one's time well. As with most businesses, achieving success as an environmental professional involves completing tasks in an efficient manner. What's more, managers must not only deal with their schedules, but also those of their subordinates.  
  • A flexible mindset. Sometimes the work of a waste management manager may involve dangerous situations or catastrophes, instances where rigid thinking may lead to further harm. A willingness to deviate from a predetermine path and adapt when the situation requires it is essential. 
  • Technical knowledge and an analytical orientation. As the old proverb goes, the devil truly is in the details, and an accomplished waste management manager must have a thorough knowledge of the technical aspects of the position. In addition to this knowledge, a manager must also possess a mind that can decipher the data, analyze it, and form an appropriate plan of action. 
  • Patience and the ability to lead. One old saying states that a ruler can be persuaded through patience and a soft tongue will break a bone. Holding one's temper and tongue while leading a team toward a shared goal is an essential skill for a manager in the environmental field. Exploding at others due to setbacks, mishaps, and mistakes will only engender bitterness in subordinates and make the job all the more difficult. 

How Much Does a Waste Management Manager Make?  

It's always tricky to discuss how much a person can expect to make in a particular position. The business environment remains in a state of continual change, and the supply and demand of professionals can cause compensation to fluctuate.  

However, some estimates indicate that waste management managers can expect to earn in the low six figures. states that a manager of waste management position has a median salary of $110,000 with the lowest 10 percent earning around $70,000 and the highest 10 percent earning about $145,000. Please note, though, that several factors such as location, experience, and education can impact what salary can be expected. 

Career Paths of a Waste Management Manager 

The very term "waste management" carries with it connotations of manual laborers engaging in unpleasant (if necessary) tasks. While this is an aspect of managing waste, it's far from what waste management managers do in their daily operations — and it doesn't represent the future career paths they can enjoy. 

Waste management managers begin in a supervisory role, and their prospects can include further managerial positions, such as: 

  • Operations Manager 
  • General Manager 
  • Project Manager 
  • Senior Project Manager 
  • Operations Vice President  
  • Senior Vice President 
  • Regional Director 
  • National Director 

Sometimes their managerial experience allows them to make lateral shifts into other departments such as human resources. But no matter the actual trajectory of a specific career, a stint as a waste management manager will leave you well prepared. 

NREPSM offers certifications that will likewise prepare you to serve as an environment professional. View our list of certifications to learn more.