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, 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) with all other site plans. SPU staff review solid waste plans to ensure compliance with code for adequate waste storage, resident and tenant access, and truck/driver access.  At a minimum, SPU reviews all plans that:

  • are multi-family, mixed-use or townhouse developments with 5 or more residential units
  • request storage or access modifications from Land Use Code
  • have trash compactors
  • have no curb cut
  • are commercial or industrial developments

Please complete and submit the SPU Checklist for Developers - Solid Waste Storage & Service.

SPU solid waste contracts staff typically review plans within a week 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 review the plans and either ask additional questions or provide their approval. SPU contracts staff then write an approval letter and provide it to the primary contact for the project. The approval letter with the approved solid waste plan page is also uploaded to Accela for SDCI documentation.

Waste storage for apartments or condos

The Land Use Code provides a range of minimum storage space dimensions scaled to different size multi-family projects (Table A in SMC 23.54.040). These requirements should accommodate:


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

Food and yard waste

Most multi-family buildings do not generate much yard waste, but do require a cart for food waste collection. 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 served weekly. Small buildings (under 8 units) may use 95 gallon carts, medium buildings use 2 or 4 cubic yard dumpsters, and the largest buildings use compacted or roll-off compacted containers.

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 storage and service requirements for garbage, recycling and food & yard waste are similar to other multifamily developments as described above.

Some apartments do not have a garage or vehicle curb cut. If the number of bedrooms is over 25, then the building would likely have dumpsters and need to have a curb cut installed to access the containers or use an adjacent curb cut.

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 garbage containers, trash rooms, hall bins, or chutes) should also have recycling and food waste receiving.
  • Small and medium sites – Developments under 75 units have one or more set of collocated sets of containers to serve garbage, recycling, and food waste.
  • Large sites – Large projects with 75 or more units have multiple collocated sets of containers or chutes for garbage, recycling, and food waste. Large projects are served by either waste chutes to handle all three waste streams, or on-floor bins that are emptied by maintenance staff.

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. All three waste streams are collected one or more times per week. More information on commercial garbage, recycling, and food and yard waste.

Waste storage at mixed-use projects

Mixed-use projects support the waste storage needs described above for both residential and commercial tenants. Garbage services can be provided as a shared or separate services for commercial and residential tenants depending on building management plans. However, residential and commercial recycling and food waste services are different for residential and commercial customers and these services are generally set up separately.

Waste storage areas for houses

A minimum waste storage footprint of 3 feet by 6 feet is required 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 your 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 8 units may have their own garbage, recycling, and food and yard waste service and bills. 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.

For townhome developments with 8 or more units, the City of Seattle encourages centralized large container services with one bill. This improves convenience and efficiency for residents and collectors, and reduces congestion on sidewalks. The formation of an HOA is required for shared solid waste service.

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 96g carts for food and yard waste depends on the presence of and size of yards and green space that exist within the development.

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. Trucks may not be able to pick up trash containers from a street with a steep grade.
  • 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 a sufficient distance where a truck may drive through without obstruction.
  • Containers should be 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 if containers are being moved from a sidewalk to the street for collection.
  • Trucks picking up trash must be able to exit the street or alley by driving forward. (Trucks cannot back up out of a street or alley.)
  • Trucks will require an adequate turning radius to enter alley and access trash containers. Parked cars or other obstacles may prevent a truck from accessing 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.

Driver access fees

Developers should be aware that additional monthly access fees could 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, or if it is necessary to unlock an area to access to the container, or if larger 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