Regulatory Library

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)


The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976, which amended the Solid Waste Disposal Act, was the first substantial effort by Congress to establish a regulatory structure for the management of solid and hazardous wastes. Subtitle C of RCRA addresses "cradle-to-grave" requirements for hazardous waste from the point of generation to disposal. Subtitle D of RCRA contains less restrictive requirements for non-hazardous solid waste. The Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA) of 1984 established additional waste management requirements and added Subtitle I, which imposes management requirements for underground storage tanks (USTs) that contain petroleum or hazardous substances. Most RCRA requirements are not industry specific but apply to any company that transports, treats, stores, or disposes of hazardous waste.

Regulations implementing Subtitle C of RCRA for hazardous waste management appear in 40 CFR 260-279. Although RCRA is a Federal statute, many States implement the RCRA program. In addition, many states have state-level hazardous waste requirements that go above and beyond the federal RCRA requirements. Sites that have been contaminated with hazardous waste may be also subject to requirements under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also commonly known as Superfund.

For a hazardous material to be regulated as a hazardous waste, it must first fall under the regulatory definition of solid waste, and then within the definition of hazardous waste, both of which are described in 40 CFR 261 Identification and Listing of Hazardous Wastes. A waste can be hazardous either by exhibiting a characteristic of a hazardous waste or by falling under a category of listed hazardous wastes. Hazardous waste characteristics include toxicity, corrosivity, ignitability, and reactivity and are designated with the code "D". Listed hazardous wastes include discarded commercial chemical products (designated with the code "P" or "U"), hazardous wastes from specific industries/sources (designated with the code "K"), and hazardous wastes from non-specific sources (designated with the code "F"). Examples of each of these waste types are: D001, ignitable wastes, U159, Methyl ethyl ketone; K050, oily sludge from a petroleum refinery; and F001, halogenated solvents.

A cornerstone of RCRA is the manifest system. The manifest is a data sheet that identifies each waste shipment. The manifest will accompany the waste from the generating facility to the final disposal site, and allows for "cradle to grave" tracking of the waste.

Hazardous waste generation

Regulated entities that generate hazardous waste are subject to waste accumulation, manifesting, and record keeping standards. These regulations are found in 40 CFR 262 and include:

  • Becoming knowledgeable with applicable regulations
  • Training appropriate personnel about these requirements
  • Identifying all sources of hazardous waste and obtaining a facility ID number, if necessary
  • Establishing a waste minimization program to reduce or eliminate hazardous wastes
  • Appropriately packaging, labeling and manifesting all hazardous waste generated
  • Meeting standards for hazardous waste accumulation
  • Complying with record keeping and reporting requirements
The amount of hazardous waste generated will determine a facility’s generator category, which is used to set the level of regulation. Facilities that generate under 100 kg per month are Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQGs) and are exempt from most reporting requirements, although they are still responsible for safe management of their waste. Facilities that generate between 100 and 1,000 kg (220 and 2.200 lbs.) per month are considered Small Quantity Generators (SQGs); facilities that generate over 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs.) per month are considered Large Quantity Generators (LQGs).

Although long-term storage of hazardous waste requires a permit, generators can accumulate hazardous waste for shorter amounts of time without obtaining a permit. Accumulation limits are 90 days for LQGs, and 180 days for SQG.

Hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal

Facilities that treat, store, or dispose of hazardous waste must obtain a permit, either from EPA or from a State agency which EPA has authorized to implement the permitting program. Subtitle C permits contain general facility standards such as contingency plans, emergency procedures, record keeping and reporting requirements, financial assurance mechanisms, and unit-specific standards. Standards for hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities can be found in 40 CFR 264 and 40 CFR 265. RCRA also contains provisions (40 CFR Part 264 Subpart S and 264.10) for conducting corrective actions which govern the cleanup of releases of hazardous waste or constituents from solid waste management units at RCRA-regulated facilities.

Based on the definition of hazardous waste - many recycling and reclamation activities involving hazardous waste are considered to be "treatment", depending on the particular recycling activities involved and the materials being recycled. The regulations covering recycling and reclamation of hazardous waste are quite complex and not necessarily intuitive. Thus it is important for facilities to determine whether any processing of secondary materials is hazardous waste treatment that requires a TSD permit.

Underground Storage Tanks

An underground storage tank (UST) is a tank and any underground piping connected to the tank that has at least 10 percent of its combined volume underground.   USTs containing petroleum and certain hazardous substances are regulated under Subtitle I of RCRA.  The UST Program is administered in large part by state and local agencies, which may impose their own additional requirements.

Subtitle I regulations (40 CFR Part 280) contain tank design and release detection requirements (requirements such as spill, overfill, and corrosion protection and regular leak detection monitoring and reporting), as well as corrective action (i.e., cleanup) standards for USTs. The UST program also establishes increasingly stringent standards - including upgrade requirements for existing tanks -  that must be met by 1998.  UST requirements are briefly presented in a plain language booklet prepared by EPA, Musts For USTs. Many facets of proper UST management can be found at EPA's web site on USTs. You may also want to check the FAQs on hazardous substance USTs.

Federal UST requirements apply to USTs storing petroleum or certain hazardous substances. Several hundred substances were designated as "hazardous" in Section 101(14) of CERCLA. The UST regulations apply to the same hazardous substances identified by CERCLA, except for those listed as hazardous wastes. These hazardous wastes are already regulated under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and are not covered by the UST regulations.  Information on the CERCLA hazardous substances is available from EPA through the RCRA/CERCLA Hotline at 800 424-9346.

Additional RCRA requirements

The following are some additional RCRA requirements to consider:

Land Disposal Restrictions (LDRs)
are regulations prohibiting the disposal of hazardous waste on land without prior treatment. Under the LDRs (40 CFR 268), materials must meet land disposal restriction (LDR) treatment standards prior to placement in a RCRA land disposal unit (landfill, land treatment unit, waste pile, or surface impoundment). Wastes subject to the LDRs include solvents, electroplating wastes, heavy metals, and acids. Generators of waste subject to the LDRs must provide notification of such to the designated TSD facility to ensure proper treatment prior to disposal.

Used Oil Management Standards (40 CFR Part 279)
impose management requirements affecting the storage, transportation, burning, processing, and re-refining of the used oil. For parties that merely generate used oil, regulations establish storage standards. For a party considered a used oil marketer (one who generates and sells off-specification used oil directly to a used oil burner), additional tracking and paperwork requirements must be satisfied.

Tanks and Containers
used to store hazardous waste with a high volatile organic concentration must meet emission standards under RCRA. Regulations (40 CFR Part 264-265, Subpart CC) require generators to test the waste to determine the concentration of the waste, to satisfy tank and container emissions standards, and to inspect and monitor regulated units. These regulations apply to all facilities that store such waste, including generators operating under the 90-day accumulation rule.

Boilers and Industrial Furnaces (BIFs)
that use or burn fuel containing hazardous waste must comply with strict design and operating standards. BIF regulations (40 CFR Part 266, Subpart H) address unit design, provide performance standards, require emissions monitoring, and restrict the type of waste that may be burned.

Transportation of Hazardous Waste within a facility boundary (e.g., for the sake of consolidation) is exempt from specific RCRA requirements, but must comply with regulations established by the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act. In the event that facilities transport hazardous waste offsite (i.e., on public roads), they must comply with RCRA transportation requirements at 40 CFR 263.

Solid Waste Management is governed by Subtitle D of RCRA.  The provisions of Subtitle D primarily affect state and regional solid waste management authorities, and include requirements for comprehensive solid waste planning as well as encouragements for recycling and recovery.  However, there is increasing attention being paid to the environmental impacts of industrial solid waste, and an increasing likelihood that RCRA may be amended to address this waste.

EPA’s RCRA/Superfund/UST Hotline, at (800) 424-9346, responds to questions and distributes guidance regarding all RCRA regulations. The RCRA Hotline operates weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET, excluding Federal holidays.

Program office links:
EPA Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response
EPA Office of Underground Storage Tanks

40 CFR 260-265
40 CFR 266-299

Related sites:
EPA Understanding Hazardous Waste Rules
Plain language guide: Musts For USTs
FAQs on hazardous substance USTs

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