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 many 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 Contractor access and collection. At a minimum, SPU reviews all plans that:

  • Are multifamily, mixed-use, townhouse/rowhouse or live-work 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 element of Land Use Code SMC 23.54.040;  or 
  • Plan to use compactors; or
  • Have no curb cut; or
  • Propose staging containers (carts or dumpsters) for collection in the public right-of-way – alleys, streets, or planting strips.

SPU solid waste staff attend most SDCI land use pre-submittal conferences for multifamily (including townhouse/rowhouse), mixed-use, commercial (including live-work), and industrial 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 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. 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 solid waste 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 (Land Use Code SMC 23.54.040, Table A). These requirements should accommodate garbage, food and yard waste, and recyclables.


Multifamily buildings generally require 1 cubic yard per 10 units per week (for example, a 40-unit apartment building could require 4 cubic yards of garbage collected per week). The pickup frequency is typically one time per week. For small buildings under 12 units, 96-gallon carts (1/2 cubic yard each) can suffice. Medium buildings use dumpsters, and medium to large buildings compact garbage and recycling or use roll-off containers with compacted or uncompacted materials.  Please see Dumpster sizes and rates

Dumpster that will contain compacted garbage or recyclables are purchased from private companies and may vary in their dimensions. SPU does NOT provide dumpsters for compacted materials. Please work with private companies that supply compaction systems to ensure proper solid waste design and access in new buildings.

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 1, 96-gallon cart for every 50 units (1-50 units = 1 cart; 51-100 units = 2 carts, etc).


Recycling volume is 1.5 cubic yards per 10 units per week. Most buildings are serviced weekly. Small buildings (under 12 units) may use 96 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.

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 like other multifamily developments as described above.

Dumpster staging requirements

Site conditions, size of development, and other factors influence solid waste service requirements. As you plan solid waste services for your development, please consider the general dumpster staging guidelines below.

Compacted dumpsters

Uncompacted dumpsters

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.
  • Chutes for food waste and garbage are strongly recommended for medium and large buildings, with containers available in every chute room for residents to deposit recyclables and broken-down boxes.
  • Buildings proposed with three or more floors are recommended to have on-floor chutes, carts, or a combination of chutes and carts for garbage, recycling, and food waste.
  • Bi-sorter and tri-sorter chutes are discouraged due to common lack of resident understanding in how to properly use them and documented 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 for 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 required to remain 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 feet by 6 feet is highly encouraged for houses to accommodate:

  • Garbage - The most common can sizes are 20 or 32 gallon but 12, 65, or 96 gallon carts are also available.  Garbage can dimensions and rates.
  • Food and yard waste - The most common cart size is 96 gallon, but 13 gallon and 32 gallon carts are also available.  Food and yard waste cart dimensions and rates.
  • Recycling - Carts are 96 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 in larger containers to maintain affordable services.

Waste storage and service for townhomes

Individual service

Townhome/rowhouse developments with fewer than 7 units typically plan for individual garbage, recycling, and food and yard waste service when sufficient space exists to store and stage containers. These buildings 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, within 8’ of the curb.

Shared service options

HOA & shared meter (water, fire and/or irrigation)

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 to meet SPU billing requirements.

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 (1/2 yard (48 gallons)/unit/ week) and 5 cubic yards/week of garbage (32g/unit/week).  The number of shared 96-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.

Hybrid service model

A mix of individual and shared solid waste services may be required for townhome or rowhouse developments with more than 7 units, and when no adequate space exists for sets of individual carts to be set out for collection. SPU solid waste plan review and inspections staff recommend and require “hybrid” services for most townhome and rowhouse developments. 

Hybrid services typically include individual garbage carts with individual billing. Recycle and food & yard waste carts are shared among the units and placed on the accounts of one or two owners. Recycle service is included in the cost of garbage, and food & yard waste charges vary by the size of container(s) required to service all units. SPU recommends including information about solid waste services in CC&Rs to clarify the responsibilities of each owner/tenant.


ADUs/DADUs and single-family homes (including townhomes and rowhouses) that share a water meter must share solid waste services and billing. Storage to accommodate the following containers is required:

Recycle: 2 - 96 gallon carts (one for the single-family home and one for the accessory unit)

Garbage: 1 - 96 gallon cart (shared)

Compost: 1 - 96 gallon cart (shared)

Waste storage and service for Live-Work units

Live-work units are considered non-residential development under Land Use Code 23.54.040 and require commercial solid waste services.

Live-work developments typically have special solid waste storage and collection challenges that require SPU guidance in accordance with Solid Waste Code 21.36.080, in addition to the requirements of Land Use Code.  These developments may only share solid waste services if units are owned by a single entity responsible for the solid waste bill or an HOA is established and a shared SPU water, fire, or irrigation meter is present for billing.

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.
  • Dumpsters shall be placed so that they will not block building exits, driveways, alleys, or abutting properties. There must be a minimum 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 waste access ramp (see Land Use Code 23.54.040.J) if containers are moved from private property or an approved staging area 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.
  • Types of Collection Trucks

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 cubic yard 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

Public Utilities

Andrew Lee, General Manager and CEO
Address: 700 5th Avenue, Suite 4900, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34018, Seattle, WA, 98124-5177
Phone: (206) 684-3000

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Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is comprised of three major direct-service providing utilities: the Water Utility, the Drainage and Wastewater Utility, and the Solid Waste Utility.