Clear Alleys Program Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Clear Alleys Program?

The City of Seattle is partnering with local waste collection companies and the downtown customers to reduce the storage of waste containers in the public right-of–way. The goals of the program are to:

  • Create cleaner, safer business districts
  • Reduce the incidence of uncivil behaviors and illegal activities in alleys
  • Increase the attractiveness of alleys for pedestrian use
  • Allow better alley access for business services such as deliveries and possible expansion of commercial activity

Who is impacted?

The Director’s Rule (pdf) restricts permanent storage of waste containers in the public right-of-ways of the Downtown, Belltown, Pioneer Square, and Columbia City neighborhoods. Please refer to the program area map for either Downtown, Belltown and Pioneer Square (pdf) or International District (pdf). This program affects you if your business or building apartment is in these neighborhoods and you store a dumpster, plastic cart, or any other container in the public right-of–way without a street use permit. If you do not store a container in the public right-of-way or have a street use permit, then this does not affect you directly.

When did these changes to garbage take place?

Beginning in April 2009, the rule initiated limits on container storage in the designated business districts of Downtown, Belltown and Pioneer Square. The City had new garbage collection contracts starting March 30, 2009 to provide impacted customers with new alternative services as prepaid bags collected up to three times daily in these neighborhoods. Garbage customers were contacted by the new service providers to inform them of service options and transition plans in February 2009. The program expanded to the International District Designated Business District Area starting in 2013 and is proposed to expand in addition to the Columbia City Designated Business District Area by July 1, 2014.

Is there a way to be exempted from the new requirement?

There are no exemptions granted for the storage of garbage containers in the public right-of-ways within the designated business. However, collection containers for used cooking oil that meet public and environmental health requirements are categorically exempt. Exemptions may also be granted by SPU for cart containment of the following materials:

  1. Labeled carts (32, 60 or 90 gallon) with tight-fitting lids for source-separated food scraps/food-soiled paper and yard trimmings if no on-site storage on private property is available as verified by the city.
  2. Labeled carts (32, 60 or 90 gallon) for glass if no on-site storage on private property is available as verified by the city.
  3. Labeled carts (32, 60 or 90 gallon) for animal waste if no on-site storage on private property is available as verified by the city.

All customers interested in obtaining an exemption for cart containment of organic waste, glass and animal waste and long-term storage in the public alleys must contact Seattle Public Utilities. The lack of on-site cart storage space on private property will need to be verified. The age of the building will be a factor in whether or not SPU will grant an exemption since all buildings constructed or underwent major remodeling after 2000 were required to be designed with space for recycling and garbage containers.

Who do I contact for an exemption?

Please contact Sally Hulsman of Seattle Public Utilities at (206) 684-4682 or through e-mail at

What size are the pre-paid bags and how much do they cost?

See the Clear Alleys Program Rates.

What are the weight limits on the pre-paid bags?

The weight limit for the 33-gallon bags is 40 lbs and the weight limit on the 15-gallon bags is 20 lbs.

How are prepaid bags be ordered?

Contact your new garbage collection company directly for bag orders and deliveries.

How much does the Clear Alleys Program cost me?

This table compares typical monthly costs for Clear Alleys pre-paid bags to the monthly service cost for a commercial non-compacted garbage account with one pickup per week. The table uses a conversion of approximately 6 full 33-gallon bags equaling one cubic yard, assumes a conservative 10% reduction in waste generated and includes account service fees.

Monthly Charges

  Dumpster 3/30/09 – 12/31/09 Prepaid Bag Option
1 Cubic Yard $149.00 $131.66
3 Cubic Yards $332.15 $365.48
6 Cubic Yards $606.90 $716.21

Rates for multi-family residential buildings demonstrate a similar though not exact cost structure to that displayed above for commercial garbage customers. In addition, the pre-paid bag service is a "pay-as-you-throw" system so you are not charged for any unused space in your container as you are with dumpsters. The pre-paid bag system will allow you to identify other waste diversion possibilities and potential for further reductions in your bill.

What about garbage that does not fit into a pre-paid bag?

Collection tags are available for items weighing less than 60 pounds that cannot fit in a bag. For larger items you can request a special collection. Please contact your collection company.

What about recycling/compost/grease containers?

All containers, including recycling, food waste and grease containers are no longer permanently stored in the public right-of-way under the new rules. Customers need to store the materials on private property or use frequent collection services.

Will my new garbage collection company be my recycling or food waste hauler as well?

Commercial businesses may use any recycling collection company they choose, but no company’s containers may be stored in the public right-of-way unless an exemption was obtained by the customer for food scraps, glass or animal waste after verification by the city that no on-site storage space was available.

Where can I get advice on how to save money on my garbage bill and manage my waste?

For information on how to save money by reducing waste and recycling more, contact the Green Business Program. View the Green Business Program website or contact them at (206) 343-8505 or email