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 for all new and some remodeled buildings in Seattle. SPU review and approval of these buildings is required. This memo serves as a guide to developers in designing effective waste storage and access for residential, multifamily, commercial, industrial, and mixed-use developments. 

Solid waste plan review process

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

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.

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 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. Alley width minimums 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 gravel, dirt, grass, or other landscaping.
  • Collection vehicles must be able to exit the street or alley by driving forward. (Trucks cannot back onto 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 12 hours prior to or following collection as agreed upon by SDOT and SPU Solid Waste. Please see SPU Director’s Rule 406 for additional staging requirements.  
  • Types of Collection Trucks

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. (All documents PDF format.)

Compacted dumpsters

Uncompacted dumpsters

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.

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

Dumpsters 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.

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
  • Separate chutes for recycling, food waste, and garbage are strongly recommended for medium and large buildings, with containers available in every chute room for residents to deposit broken-down boxes. Please visit our guidance for using chutes in multifamily buildings section for more information.

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.

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.

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. Each customer needs to bring the containers to the curb or alley for collection, within 8’ of the curb.

Shared service options

Fully-shared services model

Developments with 7 or more units should consider fully 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 or fire meter is required 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 (32 gallons/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 landscaping debris will be removed from the site by a third-party landscaping service.

Townhome Fully Shared HOA Service Site Plan Examples (PDF)

Hybrid service model

A mix of individual and shared solid waste services may be required for townhome or rowhouse developments with more than 5 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 billing account of one owner. 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 requests that developers include information for owners about solid waste services in covenants to clarify the responsibilities of each owner/tenant.

Townhome Hybrid Service Site Plan Examples (PDF)

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.

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

Garbage: one 96-gallon cart (shared)

Compost: one 96-gallon cart (shared)

ADU-DADU Service Site Plan Examples (PDF)

Live-work units are considered non-residential development under Land Use Code 23.54.040 and may 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 or fire meter is present for billing.

Guidance for using chutes in multifamily buildings

Why should developers consider including solid waste chutes?

Key benefits

  • Property cleanliness: Property staff have reported that using chutes leads to cleaner collection areas and requires less frequent cleaning of building’s elevators and hallways, because residents are not transporting putrescible waste as far.
  • Reduced staff time: On-floor collection is provided without requiring property staff to move as many materials or containers throughout the building.
  • Reduced “yuck” factor: Chute systems reduce resident and guest exposure to the odors and pests that can accumulate in centralized collection areas, stairwells, hallways, etc.
  • Reduced solid waste costs: Some research suggests that convenient (i.e., on-floor) disposal options results in the highest diversion rates. A reduction in garbage generation reduces garbage collection costs and reduced staff time devoted to solid waste management reduces operating costs.
  • Space efficiency: may require a smaller footprint than other options for on-floor collection.
  • Comply with SMC 21.36.083.A.: Recycle and food & yard waste are banned from the garbage in Seattle 

Types of chutes

  • Individual chutes (strongly recommended): SPU recommends a system with three independent chutes for three streams (i.e., garbage, recycle, and food waste). This system provides resident convenience, minimizes chute electronics malfunction, reduces contamination in the recycle and food waste, and takes less staff time to maintain. This system has 3 separate chutes, each with a separate access door for residents. Alternatively, a chute for garbage and a chute for recycle can be installed, and a 32-gallon food scrap container placed in the chute room and emptied by maintenance staff.
  • Diverter or sorter chutes (not recommended): A single chute with mechanical and electrical systems that allow users to direct different material streams to separate containers beneath the chute outlet. (e.g., tri-sorters and bi-sorters). Diverter chutes tend to require the most maintenance and staff time. Residents may need to follow long and complicated instructions to be able to use them properly. It is common that residents on one floor need to wait until a resident on another floor finishes disposing of material, which can lead to residents pushing buttons repeatedly and potential malfunction. They also have the most cross-contamination as the sorter may not move as quickly or be as accurate when moving from one stream to the other.
Chute room with two chutes properly labeled and compost container.
Double chute system with a 13-gallon food waste/compost cart.

Property managers should be prepared to dedicate staff time and budget to regular chute maintenance. To prevent residue build-up and minimize odors, chutes should be cleaned regularly.

Plan to include wash-down systems for weekly or monthly cleaning. Many properties also recommend annual or semi-annual pressure washing.

How to prevent chutes from clogging

  • Material flow depends on the angle, material, and size of chute. Properties with sharp angles between the chute and the collection container reported more clogged chutes and more regular maintenance needs.
  • Ventilation: plan for a fan at either the top or bottom of the chute. Some properties have noted that positive air pressure systems (i.e., pulling air up to an opening in the roof or similar) can pull lightweight items such as plastic bags, into the chute. This can block the fan and/or chute.
concrete room with chutes but only space for one dumpster.
Dual chute system with not enough space for second dumpster.

Best Management Practices

  • Dumpsters are required under chute terminations to catch material
  • On-floor solid waste rooms should include clear, concise instructions (e.g., dirty diapers, pet waste, food, and medical waste should be bagged, etc.)
  • Chute system designs should factor in ceiling mounts or hoods (which hold the diverter plate and/or help prevent debris from flying from the container)
  • Consider how collection containers will be moved from under the chute to the point of collection
  • Management should provide a 96-gallon cart or other container to collect cardboard on every floor
  • Residents should be educated to break down cardboard boxes
  • Selection of collection container types (e.g., carts vs. dumpsters vs. compactors) at the chute outlet should take place before the building design is complete
  • Carts are not suitable under chutes because they fill up quickly
  • Chute size:
    • Minimum 24” diameter for garbage
    • Minimum 30” diameter for recycle
    • Minimum 24” diameter for food/compost
Printed, laminated, overly complex instruction sheet on wall above chute.
Long and confusing instructions for residents.

On-floor room size

Detail from blueprint plans of ADA accessible chute room.
Example of adequate double chute system room with 32-gallon cart.
  • Must provide adequate space, including ADA compliance
  • Please plan for a 96g cart or a separate centralized location for cardboard and large items
  • Chute interface: Color-coding and labeling that use both images and text are key elements of resident education and participation
  • How residents carry food scraps from their unit to the chute system
    • Managers may consider distributing compostable bags to residents to ensure that they do not use plastic bags, which are not allowed in food/compost
  • To minimize contamination of compost and recycle streams, it is important that garbage be the most accessible chute.


Upon move-in

Different containers and sizes with examples of posters with instructions, human figure for scale.
Example placement of signage around containers.
  1. Label each container with stickers and install sorting posters near each container (available in multiple languages)
  2. All garbage containers should be black or grey, recycle should be blue, and food+yard should be green. The color of containers and signage should match.
  3. To reduce contamination, place the containers, so garbage is the first one the residents encounter as they approach, then recycle, and finally food+yard waste
  4. Make sure that each unit has a container to collect recyclables and food scraps in their unit
  5. If you are providing a food waste chute, managers should plan to provide education to residents on what types of bags are allowed
  6. Find additional resources on Help Residents Recycle and Compost

 How to train residents

  1. The best time to train residents on how to sort correctly is during move-in. For best results, talk to residents in person and physically show them the containers used for recycle, food scraps, and garbage.
  2. Use this sample letter to residents (PDF) to notify them by writing about where solid waste containers and collection is located in the building
  3. Some buildings may be eligible for small food scrap containers for units from SPU. The containers belong to the building, not the residents. Property managers can request them by contacting or leaving a message at (206) 684-8717.
  4. Residents should be educated to break down cardboard boxes and given instructions on where they should be placed when flat.
  5. Loose recyclables- recyclables should NOT be bagged. It is important that the material recovery facility receives the recyclables loose in order to properly sort them.
  6. Include sorting guidelines in the move-in package. Request free sorting guidelines in different languages.
The top 5 items wanted in Recycling, Compost & Garbage Complete sorting information at:  When in doubt, find out.  Recycle: Must Be EMPTY, CLEAN & DRY 1. Paper 2. Cardboard - flattened 3. Plastic bottles & containers 4. Metal cans 5. Glass bottles & jars  (Must Be EMPTY, CLEAN & DRY. No Plastic Bags.)  Compost: 1. Food scraps 2. Pizza boxes, napkins & paper towels 3. Compostable bags 4. Compostable food packaging 5. Yard waste & plants  (No Plastic Bags)  Garbage: 1. Plastic bags, wraps & wrappers 2. Bubble envelopes & mailers 3. Styrofoam & food foam trays 4. Diapers & pet waste - bagged 5. Hygiene products & personal protective equipment  Items that need special disposal: 1. Furniture 2. Electronics 3. Batteries & fluorescent light bulbs 4. Medicines & syringes 5. Cooking oil & motor oil (Place up to two one-gallon jugs of ccoking oil or motor oil next to recycle containers.)  Property manager or builder owner schedule at:  More info:
Example of sorting guidelines flyer for residents.

Tips for keeping your food scrap container clean

  • Take the food scraps from your apartment to the building compost cart every couple of days
  • Wash your food scrap container after emptying it
  • Layer wet food scraps with newspaper or food-soiled paper like napkins or paper towels
  • Put a lid on the container
  • Sprinkle baking soda on top of the food scraps
  • Rub vinegar around the rim of the container
  • Store the container in the freezer or refrigerator
  • Use a compostable bag (optional)
  • View additional kitchen storage tips

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.