Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter in the United States, you probably know how, when, and where to get rid of ordinary household garbage. Food scraps, plastic packaging, and all other sorts of ordinary trash are collected by the curbside every week by either city sanitation workers or a privately contracted waste management company, depending on your city and county.
But what about other types of junk, like a ratty old sofa or a pile of construction debris from your latest kitchen renovation project? Chances are, your weekly municipal garbage collection worker won’t touch these items, so how do you get rid of them?
That’s why it’s important to know the difference between trash and garbage collection and how it differs from junk removal services, and knowing the difference, like the old G.I. Joe cartoons used to say, “is half the battle.” The other half? Knowing who to call when you need bulky junk items removed so you can keep more of your hard-earned dollars in your wallet and get that old junk outta sight, outta mind.
Trash & garbage collection in the United States
What exactly is trash and garbage? You probably already know the answer, and it’s probably close to the actual definition, even though we often use these two words interchangeably in the United States.
Trash vs garbage: what’s the difference?
The short answer is that trash (likely from Old Norse tros “fallen leaves and twigs”) is, broadly speaking, any unwanted, discarded waste that has little to no real value. Garbage (likely from Middle English garbage or gabarage “waste parts of an animal for human consumption”), on the other hand, often implies organic or wet waste, such as coffee grounds, eggshells, chicken bones, and so on. In modern American English usage, they are used interchangeably so often that there is virtually no difference between the two words in common usage.
We do go into much greater detail on the exact differences between different types of waste in our comprehensive guide to junk removal, so check that out if you want to nerd out on waste and refuse terminology.
How are trash and garbage collected?
According to the EPA, around 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste (including trash, garbage, recyclables and compostable organic materials) were generated in the US in 2018. This works out to around 4.9 pounds of waste per person, per day. Over half of all this waste generally falls into the category of trash, with around 21.5% being food waste.
Most ordinary household trash and garbage in the United States is collected by either a city sanitation department or via a private contract that your city/county may have with a waste management company. Either twice weekly, once per week, or biweekly, they drive scheduled routes around your neighborhood and collect trash and garbage from the curbside in their vehicles.
How much does garbage collection cost?
There are costs associated with garbage collection, although you may or may not see them directly imposed on you. As a homeowner, the cost of these services is either paid for through property taxes or more directly on a utility bill, for example. If you’re a renter, you’re indirectly paying it through rent; the landlord pays it through the aforementioned methods.
Additional services provided
In addition to trash and garbage collection, must cities and counties also provide property owners with bins for recyclables, and they may also do seasonal yard waste collection or offer bulky item removal up to a certain limit. These additional services vary so much by city and county that it’s worth checking your city/county website to see what they can and cannot collect (and when) for yourself.
Junk removal services in the US
Another word we often use interchangeably with trash and garbage is junk, but it’s one that deserves a little differentiation. We often say “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” and not “one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.” Who would want someone else’s garbage? Yuck.
What is junk?
The word junk (likely from unknown origin junke “old cable or rope,” nautical), even from its etymological roots, implies that it is a form of waste that may be reusable. It may also denote something that is of no value to us specifically, but could be perfectly valuable to someone else. Scrap metal, for example, may hold little value sitting in your garage, but a scrapyard is more than willing to take it off your hands and to have it recycled into valuable metal products.
Unlike with trash and garbage, which tend to be ordinary household waste, junk is an extremely broad category that could include anything from an old stove or oven that no longer works, a rusty old trampoline, a backyard shed falling apart, boxes of loose clothing or books, and the list goes on and on.
Quite often, these types of junk cannot simply be left at the curb in the hopes that the garbageman will come and collect it. Other alternatives are often required to dispose of these types of junk.
What is junk removal?
One thing that ordinary household trash and garbage does have in common with junk is that most of us just want it gone and out of sight. While you can arrange to have your trash and garbage collected from the curb, you may not always be able to leave bulky items like mattresses or construction debris – they simply won’t touch it.
To get rid of junk, you’ll need to either dispose of it yourself or hire a junk removal company near you to get the job done. Junk removal companies specialize in collecting and disposing of all sorts of unwanted junk, and they typically do so with a good old pickup truck, a hitch trailer, and plenty of muscle to move bulky items up and down staircases, in and out of doors, and so on.
When is junk removal necessary?
Junk removal is necessary for many reasons, but ultimately it most often comes down to simply wanting to get rid of it. More specifically, homeowners and business owners across the United States get rid of junk for reasons such as:
- Getting rid of heavy and/or bulky items
- Full or partial house cleanout
- Eviction cleanouts, estate cleanouts, hoarder cleanouts, foreclosure cleanouts, etc.
- Moving to another city or state
- Construction, renovations, and/or demolition work
- Decluttering – you want to maximize space in your home or business
- You need waste hauled off immediately, e.g. piles of garbage or organic material
- and many more…
How much does junk removal cost?
Whereas the cost of routine garbage collection should be clear and consistent (on average it works out to around $30/month either from taxes or paid directly), the cost of junk removal is a lot more variable.
There are many variables that can drive costs up or down, but to keep things brief the biggest determining factors include the type and quantity of junk to be hauled off, how much time and labor are required, where you live in the US, and seasonal demand.
Since the cost of junk removal can vary so much, it is important that you always choose to work with a reputable, independent and local junk hauler that can provide you with a fair and accurate quote before doing any work. All of the junk removal partners listed on JunkGator have been vetted and approved, and our prices page lists real-life examples of the cost of junk removal for various items.
The differences between trash and junk removal
By now, you probably already have a good impression of the differences between junk removal and garbage collection. It’s not rocket surgery, but knowing which one to use can end up saving you lots of time, energy and money.
Here are a few factors to consider when deciding who can most likely deal with your household trash and/or junk:
- Type of item: what do you need removed?
- Quantity: how much do you need removed?
- Frequency: how often do you need it to be removed?
- Method of disposal: where is the trash/junk disposed of?
- Price: how much will it cost?
To get a rough impression of how to dispose of your trash or junk, refer to the below table:
|Trash removal||Junk removal|
|Type of item||● Household garbage & trash
● Yard waste*
|● Bulky items
● Yard waste
● Construction debris
● and much more…
|Quantity||Limited by bin capacity||Any amount, small or large|
|Frequency||Weekly/biweekly collection*||Whenever you need it|
|Method of disposal||● Landfill
● Recycling facilities
|● Donation to charity
● Recycling facilities
|Price**||● Residential: $30+ per month
● Commercial: $100-$500 per month
* Varies by city/county
** Approximate prices as of 2022
Generally, regular household waste such as food scraps, paper, plastic containers, cans, clothing, and hygiene products are best discarded in trash bins and/or recycling bins for routine collection from the curbside. You’re either paying for it directly through utilities, or they’re getting it from your property taxes; either way, you’re paying for it so may as well use it!
For most other items, however, it’s often best to hire a local junk hauler near you through a platform such as JunkGator. Depending on the type and quantity of junk you need to dispose of, it may be okay to dispose of it yourself or it may be better to just leave it to them. This is especially the case for big, bulky items like appliances, furniture, hot tubs, sheds, and so on. It’s also very important for junk like old electronics, which cannot be easily disposed of as they are considered e-waste which is increasingly being banned from landfills.
Things to consider when choosing how to get rid of trash or junk
Now that we’ve listed out the main differences between junk removal and trash collection, which one should you use for your household trash and junk? Let’s go over the big criteria again and list out when it’s better to call a junk hauler or to drop it off at the curb:
- Type of item: if your city sanitation department won’t pick up the waste, you’re better off hiring a junk hauler. Mattresses, appliances, and electronics can be very difficult to dispose of yourself, so it often isn’t worth the effort to try to DIY it.
- Quantity: if you’ve generated too much garbage and trash, beyond what your city sanitation department will accept for collection, it is best to call a junk hauler. Junk haulers can collect anything from a single mattress to clearing out a full hoarder’s house.
- Frequency: for ordinary household trash, it’s normally best to just leave it out on the curb on collection day. If you need larger volumes collected frequently, consider hiring a waste management company. If you need junk gone on a one-off basis, just leave the job to a local junk hauler instead.
- Method of disposal: while city sanitation departments ensure that their employees dispose of waste according to laws and regulations, they do not use alternative means such as donation or refurbishment. Junk haulers must also abide by all laws and regulations for waste disposal, but they are also incentivized to cut costs and to benefit the environment by trying to donate usable junk items to charities, for example.
- Price: for routine garbage collection, the $30 or so you spend per month is often unavoidable, especially if it’s taken from property taxes. For one-off junk removal, it is affordable to hire a junk hauler, but you wouldn’t likely want to hire one every week to pick up your garbage bins. Affordable junk haulers tend to be local, independent businesses. Find one near you by using JunkGator.
Choosing the right service for your needs is important for your own convenience, saving money, and keeping your property clean and tidy. In general, just leave your ordinary garbage, trash, and recyclables in your bins and let the city pick it up – but you were probably doing that already! Just know that for nearly any other type of junk, you don’t need to clutter up your property with unwanted junk. Junk haulers provide an essential service that saves time, money, and effort.