Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

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Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
Great Seal of the United States
Other short titlesResource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976
Long titleAn Act to provide technical and financial assistance for the development of management plans and facilities for the recovery of energy and other resources from discarded materials and for the safe disposal of discarded materials, and to regulate the management of hazardous waste.
Acronyms (colloquial)RCRA
NicknamesSolid Waste Utilization Act
Enacted bythe 94th United States Congress
EffectiveOctober 21, 1976
Public law94-580
Statutes at Large90 Stat. 2795
Acts amendedSolid Waste Disposal Act of 1965
Titles amended42 U.S.C.: Public Health and Social Welfare
U.S.C. sections created42 U.S.C. ch. 82 § 6901 et seq.
Legislative history

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[edit]

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

The resulting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program is a joint federal and state endeavor, with the federal level providing basic requirements that states then adopt, adapt, and enforce[3]. RCRA is now most widely known for the regulations promulgated under it that set standards for the treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste in the United States. However, it also plays an integral role in the management of municipal and industrial waste as well as underground storage tanks[3].


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.[4] Regulations regarding management of hazardous waste begin in part 260.[5] States are authorized to operate their own hazardous waste programs, which must be at least as stringent as federal standards, and are tasked with creating state implementation plans for managing solid waste[3].


Subtitle A: General Provisions[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • 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[edit]

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), 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. States are authorized to implement their own hazardous waste programs[3]. The statute imposes 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[edit]

This section of the act banned open landfills[3]. It also provides criteria for landfills and other waste disposal facilities[3]. Subtitle D 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. It also detailed that 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. Oil and gas exploration and production wastes, such as drill cuttings, produced water, and drilling fluids are categorized as "special wastes" and are also exempt from Subtitle C.[1][6]

Subtitle E: Department of Commerce responsibilities[edit]

  • Development of Specifications for secondary materials; Development of markets for recovered material.
  • Technology promotion

Subtitle F: Federal responsibilities[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • Research, Demonstrations, Training; Special Studies
  • Coordination, collection, dissemination of information

Subtitle I: Underground Storage Tanks[edit]


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).[7] 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.[8] As of 2009 there were approximately 600,000 active USTs at 223,000 sites subject to federal regulation.[9]

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 track UST status. UST regulatory programs are principally administered by state and U.S. territorial agencies.[10]

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.[11] It is also recommended that above-ground storage tanks are used whenever possible.[12][13]

Subtitle J: Medical Waste (expired)[edit]

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.)[14] If determined to be hazardous, medical waste is currently regulated by RCRA Subtitle C for hazardous wastes.

Amendments and related legislation[edit]

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.[15] 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).[7] 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.[11] The amendments established a trust fund to pay for the cleanup of leaking UST sites where responsible parties cannot be identified.[16]

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.[17]

The bill Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act of 2013 (H.R. 2279; 113th Congress), which made it to the House floor in January 2014, would amend this law "to remove a requirement that the Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review and revise regulations declared under such Act at least every three years."[18]

Treatment, storage, and disposal facility permits[edit]

Treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) manage hazardous waste 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.[19]

The permitting requirements for TSDFs appear in 40 CFR Parts 264 and 270.[20] TSDFs manage (treat, store, or dispose) hazardous waste 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[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, P.L. 94-580, 90 Stat. 2795, 42 U.S.C. § 6901 et seq., October 21, 1976. RCRA Full text.
  2. ^ a b EPA (2010). "History of RCRA."
  3. ^ a b c d e f Horinko, Marianne, Cathryn Courtin. “Waste Management: A Half Century of Progress.” EPA Alumni Association. March 2016.
  4. ^ EPA (2011). "Non-hazardous Waste Regulations."
  5. ^ EPA (2011). "Hazardous Waste Regulations."
  6. ^ "Exemption of Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Wastes from Federal Hazardous Waste Regulations" (PDF). Environmental Protection Agency Office of Solid Waste (5305W).
  7. ^ a b Hazardous and Solid Wastes Amendments of 1984, P.L. 98-616, 98 Stat. 3224, November 8, 1984.
  8. ^ EPA (2011). "Overview Of The Federal UST Program."
  9. ^ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Washington, D.C. (2010). "FY 2009 Annual Report On The Underground Storage Tank Program." Document no. EPA-510-R-10-001.
  10. ^ EPA (2009). "Basic information about the Underground Storage Tank Program."
  11. ^ a b Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986, P.L. 99-499, 100 Stat. 1696. October 17, 1986.
  12. ^ Supervisors' Safety Manual (9th ed.). Itasca, IL: National Safety Council. 1997. ISBN 978-0-87912-197-6.
  13. ^ "Chemicals Stored in USTs: Characteristics and Leak Detection". Washington, DC: United States Environmental Protection Agency, Risk Reduction Engineering Laboratory. 1991.
  14. ^ EPA (2010). "Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988." 2010-01-20.
  15. ^ Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, P.L. 96-510, 94 Stat. 2767, 42 U.S.C. § 9601 et seq., December 11, 1980.
  16. ^ EPA (2011). "Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund."
  17. ^ Land Disposal Program Flexibility Act of 1996, P.L. 104-119, 110 Stat. 830, 42 U.S.C. § 6924. March 26, 1996.
  18. ^ "H.R. 2279 - Summary". United States Congress. Retrieved 7 January 2014.
  19. ^ EPA. "Part 265 – Interim Status Standards For Owners And Operators Of Hazardous Waste Treatment, Storage, And Disposal Facilities." 40 C.F.R. 265.
  20. ^ EPA. "Part 264 – Standards For Owners And Operators Of Hazardous Waste Treatment, Storage, And Disposal Facilities." 40 C.F.R. 264.
    "Part 270 – EPA Administered Permit Programs: The Hazardous Waste Permit Program ." 40 C.F.R. 270.