Solid Waste Storage and Access for New or Remodeled Buildings

Client Assistance Memo 1301

Seattle Land Use Code SMC 23.54.040 requires solid waste container storage and access in all new and remodeled buildings in Seattle. This memo serves as a guide to developers in designing effective waste storage and access for residential, multi-family, commercial, industrial, and mixed-use developments.

Solid waste plan review process

SPU review of solid waste storage, access, and service plans for most new developments and most renovations of existing buildings is required. Developers must also submit waste storage and access details to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) per Land Use Code 23.54.040. SPU staff review solid waste plans to ensure compliance with Land Use and Solid Waste code for adequate waste storage, resident and tenant access, and truck/driver access.  At a minimum, SPU reviews all plans that:

  • Are multifamily, mixed-use, townhouse/rowhouse with 5+ units; or 
  • Are new commercial or industrial buildings, or existing commercial or industrial buildings adding 5,000 square feet or more; or 
  • Seek variance from any elements of Land Use Code SMC 23.54.040; or
  • Plan to use compactors; or
  • Have no curb cut; or
  • Plan to stage containers (carts or dumpsters) for collection in the public right-of-way - alleys, streets, or planting strips.

SPU Solid Waste staff attend most SDCI pre-submittal conferences for multifamily, mixed-use, commercial, industrial and townhouse or rowhouse projects to provide early guidance to applicants to facilitate code-compliant design for solid waste storage, access, and collection.

Please complete and submit the SPU Solid Waste Storage and Access Checklist for Designers and attach the requested documents listed at the bottom of the checklist.

SPU solid waste contracts staff typically review plans within two weeks of receipt and work with the architect or developer over several weeks or more, depending on complexity and design phase, to make any necessary changes to the plans. Once plans are agreed upon, SPU solid waste inspectors and the contracted solid waste hauler (Waste Management or Recology) review the plans and either ask additional questions or provide their co-approval. SPU contracts staff then write an approval letter near the time of MUP or Building Permit issuance and provide it to the applicant contact for the project. The approval letter with the approved solid waste storage and access plan is also uploaded to the project record in Accela.

Waste storage for apartments or condos

The Land Use Code provides a range of minimum storage space dimensions scaled to different size multifamily projects (Table A in SMC 23.54.040). These requirements should accommodate garbage, food and yard waste, and recyclables. 


Multi-family buildings generally require 1.5 cubic yards per week per 10 housing units (for example, a 40-unit apartment building could require 6 cubic yards of garbage collected per week). The pickup frequency is typically one time per week. For very small buildings, under 12 units, 95-gallon carts (1/2 cubic yard each) can suffice. Medium buildings use dumpsters, and medium-large buildings compact garbage and recycling or use roll-off containers with compacted or uncompacted materials. Please see Dumpster sizes and rates

Food and yard waste

Food and yard waste service is required for multifamily buildings per Solid Waste Code 21.36.080. The building must provide one cart for every 50 units (1-50 units = 1 cart; 51-100 units = 2 carts, etc).


Recycling volume is similar to garbage (1.5 cubic yards per week per 10 units). Most buildings are serviced weekly. Small buildings (under 12 units) may use 95 gallon carts, medium buildings use 2, 3, or 4 cubic yard dumpsters, and the largest buildings use the above dumpster sizes with compacted materials, or larger, roll-off dumpsters with compacted or uncompacted materials.

Separate recycle and garbage chutes are recommended for medium and large buildings, with a container available in every chute room for residents to deposit food waste.

Waste storage for congregate or small efficiency dwelling units

Solid waste service requirements for garbage and recycling are 1 cubic yard per 10 units or bedrooms per week. Food & yard waste requirements are similar to other multifamily developments as described above.

Resident access to recycling and food waste at apartments or condos

Multi-family buildings must be designed to ensure compliance with Seattle's required separation of recycling and food waste (SMC 21.36.082). This includes convenient and universal resident access to garbage, recycling, and food waste:

  • All garbage receiving areas (such as trash rooms, hall bins, or chutes) should have recycling and food waste containers.
  • Buildings proposed with three or more floors should provide on-floor chutes, carts, or a combination of chutes and carts for garbage, recycling, and food waste.  Bi-sorter or tri-sorter chutes are discouraged due to common lack of resident understanding in how to properly use them and poor mechanical performance. 

Waste storage areas for commercial projects

The Land Use Code provides a range of minimum storage space dimensions scaled to different size of commercial projects (Table A in SMC 23.54.040). Garbage, recycling, and food waste capacity needs vary by business size and type. See capacity requirements for hotels, retail operations, and offices. More information on commercial garbage, recycling, and food and yard waste.

Waste storage at mixed-use buildings

Mixed-use projects support the waste storage needs described above for both residential and commercial tenants. Garbage service can be shared or separate depending on building management plans. However, residential and commercial recycling and food waste service and containers are separate for residential and commercial customers.

Waste storage areas for houses

A minimum waste storage footprint of 2 feet by 6 feet is required and a minimum waste storage footprint of 3 feed by 6 feet is highly encouraged for houses to accommodate:

  • Garbage - The most common can sizes are 20 or 32 gallon, but 12 gallon cans and 65 or 95 gallon carts are also available. Garbage can dimensions and rates.
  • Food and yard waste - The most common cart size is 95 gallon, but 13 gallon and 32 gallon carts are also available. Food and yard waste cart dimensions and rates.
  • Recycling - Carts are 95 gallons and service is included in the garbage rate.
  • Service frequencies - Garbage and food and yard waste are collected weekly. Recycling is collected every other week.

Waste storage areas at townhomes

Townhome developments with fewer than 7 units may have their own garbage, recycling, and food and yard waste service and bills if space for staging and collection exists at the curb or alley. These require the same storage space and containers as houses, described above. Each customer needs to bring the containers to the curb or alley for collection.

Developments with 7 or more units should consider shared solid waste services (dumpsters or carts) to provide efficient collection services, protect required street trees, and avoid crowded planting strips and billing mistakes. An HOA and a shared water, fire, and/or irrigation meter is required to set up shared service for SPU billing purposes.

Townhouse developments require the same per-unit capacity for recycling and garbage as single-family homes. For example, a 30-unit project would require 7.5 cubic yards/week of recycling and 7.5 cubic yards/week of garbage (1/2 yard/unit/every other week).

The number of shared 95-gallon carts for food and yard waste depends on the amount and type of landscaping that exists within the development, and whether or not landscaping debris will be removed from the site by a third-party landscaping service.

Waste location and access for all projects

Waste storage areas are on private property and in unobtrusive locations accessible by customers and collection contractors.

  • Most containers cannot be picked up from a main arterial. See Checklist and Land Use Code for maximum slopes allowed for staging and collection of dumpsters.
  • Dumpsters shall be placed so that they will not block building exits, driveways, alleys, or abutting properties. There must be a minimum of 10 feet of lateral clearance (width) in any alley for trucks to drive through without obstruction. Width minimums for alleys increase based on site conditions and dumpster sizes and staging position.
  • Containers must be stored on a flat, level, hard surface with level access to a paved street, alley or parking lot for collection. For dumpsters, there needs to be a curb cut or a waste access ramp (see 23.54.040.J) if containers are moved either by maintenance or drivers from the property to the street for collection. Dumpsters may not be moved across grass or other landscaping; most dumpsters may not be moved across gravel or unpaved areas.
  • Collection vehicles must be able to exit the street or alley by driving forward. (Trucks cannot back out of a street or alley).
  • Trucks require an adequate turning radius to enter and exit an alley and to access solid waste containers. Parked cars, dumpsters used by other buildings, or other obstacles may prevent a truck from accessing containers. See specifications for truck turning and access to solid waste containers.  
  • If the storage area is not adjacent to the service right of way, then containers can be temporarily placed in right of way up to 24 hours prior to or following collection as agreed upon by SDOT and SPU Solid Waste. 

Driver access fees

Developers should be aware that additional monthly access fees apply for certain ancillary activities (SMC 21.40.060, Section L) such as if containers are more than 25 feet from the right of way, but less than 50', or if it is necessary to unlock an area to access containers, or if 3 or 4-yd uncompacted containers must be repositioned to align with truck lifts.

Construction waste requirements

Developers are required to properly dispose of and recycle waste generated during demolition and construction phases of all projects.

Requesting waste services for occupancy

After construction, developers or owners will need to request new services when a building is ready for occupancy:

City contacts and code