Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
In 1965 the Solid Waste Disposal Act [Public Law (Pub. L.) 89-72] was enacted to improve solid waste disposal methods. It was amended in 1970 by the Resource Recovery Act (Pub. L. 91-512), which provided the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with funding for resource recovery programs. However, that Act had little impact on the management and ultimate disposal of hazardous waste. In 1976 Congress enacted the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA, Pub. L. 94-580). RCRA established a system for managing non-hazardous and hazardous solid wastes in an environmentally sound manner. Specifically, it provides for the management of hazardous wastes from the point of origin to the point of final disposal (i.e., "cradle to grave"). RCRA also promotes resource recovery and waste minimization.
The Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments of 1984 (HSWA, Pub. L. 98-616) both expanded the scope and increased the requirements of RCRA. HSWA addressed congressional concern about the adequacy of existing requirements to prevent uncontrolled releases of hazardous constituents or hazardous wastes from hazardous waste management units. Three of the HSWA initiatives were especially noteworthy in preventing or addressing hazardous waste/constituent releases.
- First, Congress directed EPA to develop what is now known as the Land Disposal Restrictions (LDR) Program [Section 3004(d) of RCRA]. Under the LDR Program the land disposal of untreated wastes is prohibited. Generally speaking, the LDR Program consists of three elements: the disposal prohibition, the dilution prohibition, and the storage prohibition. The most prominent aspect of the LDR Program is the disposal prohibition, which includes treatment standards, variances, and notification requirements. The EPA must establish treatment standards for all listed and characteristic hazardous wastes destined for land disposal. Treatment standards are either concentration levels for hazardous constituents or treatment technologies that must be applied to the waste in order to substantially diminish the toxicity of wastes and/or reduce the likelihood that wastes will migrate from the disposal site. The regulatory requirements of the LDR Program can be found in 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 261 and 268.
- Second, facilities were required to satisfy minimum technology requirements (i.e., liners and leachate collection systems) for surface impoundments, waste piles, land treatment units, and landfills (40 CFR) 264/265, Subparts K-N) to prevent hazardous wastes and/or constituents from migrating into the ground water and to allow releases to be detected when they occur [Section 3004(o)].
- Third, when a facility seeks a RCRA permit, EPA was granted the authority to require corrective action for releases of hazardous waste and hazardous constituents from any solid waste management unit, regardless of when the waste was placed in the unit [Sections 3004(u) and 3004(v)].
The Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988 (Pub. L. 100-582) amended RCRA in response to public concern over the degradation of shoreline areas, particularly in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, due to the washups of medical debris (e.g., needles, syringes, blood bags, bandages, vials). Among other things, this Act required EPA to establish a two-year demonstration program for tracking medical wastes generated in specified states. On March 24, 1989, EPA issued an interim final rule entitled Standards for the Tracking and Management of Medical Waste [54 Federal Register (FR) 12326]. Please click here for information on medical waste issues.
The Federal Facility Compliance Act (FFCAct, Pub. L. 102-386) was enacted on October 6, 1992, and, among other things, specifically waived sovereign immunity with respect to RCRA for federal facilities. Therefore, EPA may impose fines and penalties on federal agencies. Please click here to see a brief summary of the FFCAct.
On March 26, 1996, RCRA was amended by the Land Disposal Program Flexibility Act of 1996 (Pub. L. 104-119). Please click here for a brief summary of this statute.
To determine the current status of pending legislation that may affect RCRA or to obtain more detailed information regarding its content, please go to Thomas, Legislative Information on the Internet. To view a Congressional Research Service Issue Brief on solid waste issues in the 106th Congress, please click here.
Purpose and Organization
RCRA is designed to:
- protect human health and the environment
- reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous wastes, and
- conserve energy and natural resources.
RCRA, as amended, contains ten subtitles. Subtitle C, Hazardous Waste Management; Subtitle D, State or Regional Solid Waste Plans; Subtitle I, Regulation of Underground Storage Tanks; and Subtitle J, Demonstration Medical Waste Tracking Program; constitute the regulatory portion of the law. The other subtitles provide the legal and administrative structure for achieving the objectives of the law.
EPA, the Department of Commerce (DOC), DOE, and the Department of the Interior (DOI) each have specific responsibilities under RCRA. EPA issues guidelines and regulations for proper management of solid and hazardous wastes, oversees and approves the development of state waste management plans, and provides financial aid to agencies and firms for research on solid waste. DOC encourages greater commercialization of proven resource recovery technologies. DOE oversees activities involving research and development of new techniques for producing energy from wastes. DOI oversees mineral waste problems, including recovery of metals and minerals and methods for stabilizing mining wastes.
Materials Regulated under RCRA
Under RCRA no material can be a hazardous waste unless it is a solid waste. RCRA defines a solid waste as:
. . . any garbage, refuse, sludge from a waste treatment plant, water supply treatment plant, or air pollution control facility and other discarded material, including solid, liquid, semisolid, or contained gaseous material resulting from industrial, commercial or mining and agricultural operations, and from community activities . . . [excluding] . . . solid or dissolved materials in domestic sewage, or solid or dissolved materials in irrigation return flows, or industrial discharges which are point sources subject to permits under Section 402 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act . . . , or source, special nuclear, or byproduct material as defined by the Atomic Energy Act [AEA] of 1954 . . . . [Section 1004(27)]
Several categories of waste important to DOE are excluded from the RCRA definition of solid wastes (40 CFR 261.2). They include source, special nuclear, or byproduct material as defined by the AEA [Section 11(e), (z), (aa)]; waste from extraction, beneficiation, and processing of ores and minerals, including overburden from mining uranium ores; utility wastes; oil and gas drilling muds and brines; and some wastes that are reused or recycled.
The statutory definition of a hazardous waste is provided in RCRA as follows:
. . . a solid waste, or combination of solid wastes, which because of its quantity, concentration, or physical, chemical, or infectious characteristics may - (A) cause, or significantly contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible, illness; or (B) pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly treated, stored, transported, or disposed of, or otherwise managed. [Section 1004(5)]
Furthermore, a solid waste is a hazardous waste if it is not excluded by regulation (40 CFR 261.4) and if it is listed (261.30) as a hazardous waste, is a waste mixture containing one or more listed hazardous wastes, or exhibits one or more characteristics of hazardous waste (i.e., ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity) (40 CFR 261.21 to 261.24). Listed wastes meet the definition of hazardous waste regardless of the concentration level of hazardous constituents in them. With few exceptions [e.g., spent solvents listed solely because they are ignitable (40 CFR 261.31)], the only way to have a listed waste relieved from hazardous waste management requirements is to petition EPA or a state to delist the waste (40 CFR 260.22). When listed wastes are mixed with nonhazardous wastes or materials, the mixture must be managed as hazardous waste. Two exceptions to this approach are hazardous debris meeting Land Disposal Restriction (LDR) standards [40 CFR 261.3(f)] and residues from processing certain wastes using high temperature metals recovery processing [40 CFR 261.3(c)(2)(ii)(C)].
In contrast to listed waste, a characteristic waste remains hazardous only as long as it exhibits a hazardous characteristic. Therefore, a mixture of a waste exhibiting a hazardous waste characteristic and a nonhazardous solid waste is not considered hazardous waste unless the mixture exhibits a hazardous waste characteristic.
Hazardous Waste Generators
Proper identification and management of hazardous wastes are critical to the success of the "cradle-to-grave" program. Waste generators must determine (40 CFR 262.11) if their solid wastes are also hazardous wastes. If the wastes are hazardous, the generator must notify EPA, or an authorized state if appropriate, of their hazardous waste management activities and obtain an EPA identification (ID) number (40 CFR 262.12). Generators must manage hazardous wastes in accordance with RCRA generator requirements (40 CFR 262) and, if wastes are accumulated for more than 90 days, obtain a RCRA permit [40 CFR 262.34(a)] for waste management activities. Generators must also verify that transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of their wastes are conducted by others with EPA identification numbers who are authorized to manage the wastes.
However, certain waste management units do not require a RCRA permit because their management activities are exempt from permitting. Examples of exempted activities are on-site accumulation of hazardous waste for less than 90 days, totally enclosed treatment, wastewater treatment that only involves tanks that discharge through surface water discharges regulated under the Clean Water Act, and elementary neutralization [40 CFR 270.1(c)(2)].
Before a hazardous waste may be shipped off-site, the generator must determine:
- whether the waste is a hazardous waste (40 CFR 262.11);
- the proper packaging for the hazardous waste (40 CFR 262.30);
- the necessary RCRA and Department of Transportation (DOT) labeling, marking, and placarding requirements (40 CFR 262.30 to 262.33); and
- the information necessary to complete and sign the hazardous waste manifest (which includes both DOT and RCRA shipping paper information) for the waste shipment (40 CFR 262.20-262.23).
Regulations specifying the documentation required when hazardous waste is to be shipped may be found in 40 CFR 262, Subpart B, The Manifest. The manifest must include the following information (Appendix to Part 262):
- name and ID number of generator and facility to which the waste is being sent;
- DOT description of waste being transported;
- quantities of waste being transported; and
- address of the off-site treatment, storage, and disposal facility (TSDF) designated to receive the waste.
The purpose of the manifesting system is to establish accountability for and tracking of hazardous waste shipments. The manifest is an important feature of RCRA's "cradle to grave" system. A generator must keep a copy of each manifest for three years. The generator must also maintain records and report hazardous waste management activity, including the amount of hazardous waste produced, the transporters of the wastes, and the TSDFs in possession of the hazardous waste (40 CFR 262.40 to 262.44).
Hazardous Waste Transporters
Regulations governing the transportation of hazardous waste may be found in 40 CFR 263. In developing its regulations EPA adopted by reference most of DOT's regulations implementing the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA) for the safe transportation of hazardous wastes (49 CFR 171 through 179). Because EPA adopted by reference rather than incorporating the specific language of DOT's HMTA regulations, a transporter must comply with both EPA's RCRA and DOT's HMTA regulations to ensure compliance when transporting hazardous waste.
Anyone who transports a hazardous waste off-site via air, rail, highway, or water is subject to the RCRA transporter requirements. However, 40 CFR 262.20(f) exempts transport of hazardous wastes within or along the border of contiguous properties under the control of the same person, even if the contiguous properties are divided by a public or private right-of-way. In addition, conditionally exempt small quantity generators are excluded in specified situations [40 CFR 262.20(e)].
Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Permits
RCRA requires an owner or operator of a TSDF to obtain a permit to operate. Congress, recognizing that a permitting program would take time to implement, established interim status as a mechanism by which existing hazardous waste management facilities could continue operation before obtaining a RCRA permit. Owners and operators of such hazardous waste management facilities had to notify EPA that the facility existed and to file a preliminary (Part A) permit application. Interim status is also available to facilities that first become subject to RCRA permitting requirements because of regulatory changes, such as expansion of the list of solid wastes regulated as hazardous waste. [Note: A facility owner or operator who has fully complied with the requirements for interim status—as defined in section 3005(e) of RCRA and regulated under 40 CFR 270.70—must comply with the regulations specified in 40 CFR 265 in lieu of the regulations in 40 CFR 264, until final administrative disposition of his permit application is made.]
Section 3005(c) of HSWA established deadlines for permitting interim-status facilities. Interim-status facilities were required to either file the Part B portion of the permit application by the applicable statutory deadline or file a closure plan and close by November 8, 1992. Interim status ends when a final determination is made to grant or deny the RCRA permit or when the facility closes (for facilities that closed rather than seek a RCRA permit). Owners/operators of facilities denied a permit may appeal the decision under 40 CFR 124.19 or an equivalent state appeal processes. New facilities are ineligible for interim status and must receive a permit before construction can begin. Thus, new facilities seeking a permit submit the Part A and Part B portions of the permit application at the same time.
Facilities operating under interim status or permits must comply with the general requirements applicable to all types of facilities and also with waste management-unit specific requirements. General requirements include providing security (40 CFR 264.14 or 265.14), planning for emergencies (40 CFR 264 or 265 Subpart D), training personnel (40 CFR 264.16 or 265.16), properly characterizing waste to be managed in the facility (40 CFR 264.13 or 265.13), ground water monitoring (as appropriate) (40 CFR 264 or 265 Subpart F), planning for eventual closure of the facility (40 CFR 264 or 265 Subpart G), and proper recordkeeping and reporting [40 CFR 264.11 or 265.11, 264.15(d) or 265.15(d), 264.16(e) or 265.16(e), 264.56(j) or 265.56(j), 264.71 through 264.77 or 265.71 through 265.77, and 265.94].
Criteria for the design, maintenance, closure, and record-keeping requirements for waste management units are specific for each type of unit. For example, tanks must meet special tank design and operation requirements (40 CFR 264 or 265 Subpart J). Containers used for storing hazardous wastes must satisfy requirements of 40 CFR 264 or 265 Subpart I. Unit-specific requirements that may apply to DOE activities are specified for, among other things, containment buildings (40 CFR 264 or 265 Subpart DD), waste piles (40 CFR 264 or 265 Subpart L), incinerators (40 CFR 264 or 265 Subpart O), surface impoundments (40 CFR 264 or 265 Subpart K), land treatment units (40 CFR 264 or 265 Subpart M), landfills (40 CFR 264 or 265 Subpart N), and miscellaneous units (40 CFR 264 Subpart X) not otherwise specified in the regulations.
RCRA Subtitle D
Subtitle D of RCRA is titled State or Regional Solid Waste Plans and is implemented at 40 CFR 257 and 258:
- 40 CFR 257 focuses on state and local governments as the primary planning, regulating, and implementing entities for the management of non-hazardous solid waste (e.g., household and non-hazardous industrial wastes).
- 40 CFR 258 establishes minimum national criteria for all municipal solid waste landfill (MSWLF) units. It also addresses location restrictions (Subpart B), Operating Criteria (Subpart C), Design Criteria (Subpart D), Ground-Water Monitoring and Corrective Action (Subpart E), and Closure and Post-Closure Care (Subpart F) for municipal solid waste landfills.
Underground Storage Tanks
Subtitle I (implemented at 40 CFR 280) was added by HSWA. It established a program to regulate the three to five million underground storage tanks (USTs) in the United States to prevent their leaking. Under this subtitle RCRA regulates the storage of a product (e.g., petroleum products, hazardous substances) rather than hazardous waste. Hazardous substances regulated under Subtitle I include all the hazardous substances (except those regulated as a hazardous waste under Subtitle C of RCRA) defined under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Hazardous substances under CERCLA Section 101(14) encompass a wide variety of pollutants regulated under other federal statutes including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act. Radionuclides, which are specifically excluded under RCRA's definition of solid waste, are regulated under CERCLA because they are defined as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Thus, radioactive materials and waste stored in USTs are within the scope of RCRA Subtitle I authority. However, within the scope of Subtitle I, tanks containing radioactive materials and wastes (i.e., source, special, and by-product materials) subject to Atomic Energy Act requirements are deferred from having to comply with UST regulations [40 CFR 280.10(c)(2)]. On the other hand, tanks containing mixtures of radioactive materials and hazardous wastes (i.e., "mixed" waste) are subject to RCRA Subtitle C requirements due to the presence of the RCRA hazardous waste component.
Federal agencies and departments, including DOE, that own or operate USTs are subject to and must comply with all applicable federal, state, interstate, and local requirements, except when the President determines that exemption of specific tanks from these requirements is in the "paramount" interest of the United States (RCRA, Section 9007).
States with RCRA Authority
Section 3006 of RCRA authorizes states to develop and enforce their own hazardous waste programs in place of the federal program administered by EPA. Before administrating any of the provisions of the statute, authorized states must complete a state program approval process. State authorization is a rulemaking process through which EPA delegates the primary responsibility for implementing the RCRA hazardous waste program to individual states in lieu of EPA. This process ensures national consistency and minimum standards while providing flexibility to states in implementing rules. State RCRA programs must always be at least as stringent as the federal requirements, but states can adopt more stringent requirements as well. Once a state has obtained final authorization, it must continually revise its program to maintain its authorized status. An authorized state must revise its program to reflect new federal rulemakings as well as any state statutory or regulatory changes that affect the state's hazardous waste program. For more information see EPA's RCRA Orientation Manual (described below) or see EPA's Web site on RCRA state authorization.
Selected Relevant EPA Guidance
EPA's RCRA Orientation Manual
Please click here to view EPA's RCRA Orientation Manual, which was issued in July 1998. This manual provides introductory information on solid and hazardous waste management programs under RCRA. Also addressed is the basic framework of the RCRA regulatory program. The manual is intended for use by new EPA and state employees, others new to RCRA, and people interested in the Act. It has seven sections: (1) introduction to RCRA, (2) managing solid waste—RCRA Subtitle D, (3) managing hazardous waste—RCRA Subtitle C, (4) managing underground storage tanks—RCRA Subtitle I, (5) miscellaneous statutory provisions (e.g., procurement guidelines), (6) RCRA and its relationship to other environmental statutes, and (7) public involvement in RCRA. Appendices include a hazardous waste manifest, land disposal restriction notification requirements, underground storage tank notification form, glossary, acronyms and abbreviations, EPA organization chart, and environmental contacts.
Guidance on the Use of Section 7003 of RCRA
In October 1997 EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance issued a guidance document entitled Guidance on the Use of Section 7003 of RCRA . This guidance updates, expands, and supersedes previous guidance on this subject, dated September 26, 1984. The guidance document states that Section 7003 of RCRA provides the Agency:
. . . with broad and effective enforcement tools that can be used to abate conditions that may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment. Section 7003 allows EPA to address situations where the handling, storage, treatment, transportation, or disposal of any solid or hazardous waste may present such an endangerment. In these situations, EPA can initiate judicial action or issue an administrative order to any person who has contributed or is contributing to such handling, storage, treatment, transportation, or disposal to require the person to refrain from those activities or to take any necessary action. Among its many benefits, Section 7003 provides EPA with a strong and effective means of furthering risk-based enforcement and implementing its strategy for addressing the worst RCRA sites first.
For further information and details, please utilize the link provided above to access a complete electronic version of this guidance document.
Relevant HS-21 Guidance
To obtain further guidance from HS-21 on RCRA-related topics, please click on the "Policy and Guidance" button on the bottom of the screen and then select "Resource Conservation & Recovery Act" from the drop-down list provided.
Regulations implementing RCRA are found in Title 40 of the CFR, Chapter I, Subchapter I.
For additional information regarding this page or feedback on its content, please contact: