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Solid Waste Disposal Act

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
Long title Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
Colloquial acronym(s) RCRA
Enacted by the  96th United States Congress
Public Law Stat. 90 Stat. 2795
Act(s) amended Solid Waste Disposal Act
Title(s) amended 42 (Public Health)
U.S.C. sections created § 6901 et seq.
Legislative history
Major amendments
Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments of 1984

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enacted in 1976, is the principal federal law in the United States governing the disposal of solid waste and hazardous waste.[1]

History and goals

Congress enacted RCRA to address the increasing problems the nation faced from its growing volume of municipal and industrial waste. RCRA amended the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965. It set national goals for:

It is now most widely known for the regulations promulgated under RCRA that set standards for the treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste in the United States.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published waste management regulations, which are codified in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations at parts 239 through 282.[3] Regulations regarding management of hazardous waste begin in part 260.[4] As noted below, most states have enacted laws and created regulations that are at least as stringent as the federal regulations. Furthermore, the RCRA statute authorizes states to carry out many of the functions of the federal law through their own hazardous waste programs (as well as their state laws) if such programs have been approved by the EPA.


Subtitle A: General Provisions

  • Congressional Findings; Objectives and National Policy
  • Definitions
  • Interstate Cooperation; Application of Act and Integration with Other Acts
  • Financial Disclosure; Solid Waste Management Information and Guidelines

Subtitle B: Office of Solid Waste; Authorities of the Administrator

  • Office of Solid Waste and Interagency Coordinating Committee
  • Authorities of EPA Administrator
  • Resource Recovery and Conservation Panels; Grants
  • Annual Report; Office of Ombudsman

Subtitle C: "Cradle to Grave" requirements

Arguably the most notable provisions of the RCRA statute are included in Subtitle C, which directs EPA to establish controls on the management of hazardous wastes from their point of generation, through their transportation and treatment, storage and/or disposal. Because RCRA requires controls on hazardous waste generators (i.e., sites that generate hazardous waste in the first place), transporters, and treatment, storage and disposal facilities (i.e., facilities that ultimately treat/dispose of or recycle the hazardous waste), the overall regulatory framework has become known as the "cradle to grave" system. The program exacts stringent recordkeeping and reporting requirements on generators, transporters, and operators of treatment, storage and disposal facilities handling hazardous waste.

Subtitle D: Non-hazardous Solid Wastes

Non-hazardous solid wastes include certain hazardous wastes which are exempted from the Subtitle C regulations, such as hazardous wastes from households and from conditionally exempt small quantity generators. Subtitle D also includes garbage (e.g., food containers, coffee grounds), non-recycled household appliances, residue from incinerated automobile tires, refuse such as metal scrap, construction materials, and sludge from industrial and municipal waste water facilities and drinking water treatment plants.

Subtitle E: Department of Commerce responsibilities

  • Development of Specifications for Secondary Materials; Development of Markets for Recovered Materials
  • Technology promotion

Subtitle F: Federal responsibilities

  • Application of Federal, State and Local Law to Federal Facilities
  • Federal Procurement
  • Cooperation with EPA; Applicability of Solid Waste Disposal Guidelines to Executive Agencies

Subtitle G: Miscellaneous provisions

  • Whistleblower protection. Employees in the United States who believe they were fired or suffered another adverse action related to enforcement of this law have 30 days to file a written complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
  • Citizen Suits; Imminent Hazard Suits
  • Petition for Regulations; Public Participation

Subtitle H: Research, Development, Demonstration and Information

  • Research, Demonstrations, Training; Special Studies
  • Coordination, Collection, Dissemination of Information

Subtitle I: Underground Storage Tanks


The operation of underground storage tanks (USTs) became subject to the RCRA regulatory program with enactment of the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments of 1984 (HSWA).[5] At that time there were about 2.1 million tanks subject to federal regulation, and the EPA program led to closure and removal of most substandard tanks.[6] As of 2009 there were approximately 600,000 active USTs at 223,000 sites subject to federal regulation.[7]

Regulatory requirements

The federal UST regulations cover tanks storing petroleum or listed hazardous substances, and define the types of tanks permitted. EPA established a tank notification system to keep track of UST status. UST regulatory programs are principally administered by state and U.S. territorial agencies.[8]

The regulations set standards for:

  • Groundwater monitoring
  • Double liners
  • Release detection, prevention and correction
  • Spill control
  • Overfill control (for petroleum products)
  • Restrictions on land disposal of untreatable hazardous waste products.

The Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) required owners and operators of USTs to ensure corrective action is completed when a tank is in need of repair, or removal, when it is necessary to protect human health and the environment.[9] It is also recommended that above-ground storage tanks are used whenever possible.[10][11]

Subtitle J: Medical Waste (expired)

RCRA Subtitle J regulated medical waste in four states (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island) and Puerto Rico, and expired on March 22, 1991. (See Medical Waste Tracking Act.)[12] If determined to be hazardous, medical waste is currently regulated by RCRA Subtitle C for hazardous wastes.

Amendments and related legislation

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as "Superfund," was enacted in 1980 to address the problem of remediating abandoned hazardous waste sites, by establishing legal liability, as well as a trust fund for cleanup activities.[13] In general CERCLA applies to contaminated sites, while RCRA's focus is on controlling the ongoing generation and management of particular waste streams. RCRA, like CERCLA, has provisions to require cleanup of contaminated sites that occurred in the past.

In 1984 Congress expanded the scope of RCRA with the enactment of Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA).[5] The amendments strengthened the law by covering small quantity generators of hazardous waste and establishing requirements for hazardous waste incinerators, and the closing of substandard landfills.[2]

In 1986, SARA addressed cleanup of leaking USTs and other leaking waste storage facilities.[9] The amendments established a trust fund to pay for the cleanup of leaking UST sites where responsible parties cannot be identified.[14]

The Land Disposal Program Flexibility Act of 1996 allowed some flexibility in the procedures for land disposal of certain wastes. For example, a waste is not subject to land disposal restrictions if it is sent to an industrial wastewater treatment facility, a municipal sewage treatment plant, or is treated in a "zero discharge" facility.[15]

Treatment, storage, and disposal facility permits

Treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) manage hazardous wastes under RCRA Subtitle C and generally must have a permit in order to operate. While most facilities have RCRA permits, some continue to operate under what is called "interim status." Interim status requirements appear in 40 CFR Part 265.[16]

The permitting requirements for TSDFs appear in 40 CFR Parts 264 and 270.[17] TSDFs manage (treat, store, or dispose) hazardous wastes in units that may include: container storage areas, tanks, surface impoundments, waste piles, land treatment units, landfills, incinerators, containment buildings, and/or drip pads. The unit-specific permitting and operational requirements are described in further detail in 40 CFR Part 264, Subparts J through DD.

See also


External links

  • RCRA Online: database of documents covering a wide range of RCRA issues and topics
  • "Hazardous Waste Permitting Process: A Citizens Guide" - EPA
  • Collected Papers of William Sanjour, a retired EPA employee and whistleblower

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