Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA; US)


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


RCRA was passed in 1976 (Public Law 94-980; 42 U.S.C.; 40 C.F.R.239-282) and governs the disposal of hazardous and solid waste ( RCRA Details). Solid waste is usually municipal waste while hazardous waste is defined specially under the rules of RCRA (40 C.F.R. 261) and include wastes that have one of the following characteristics: ignitibility; reactivity; corrosivity; toxicity.

RCRA established a “cradle to grave” tracking system for hazardous and solid waste. RCRA requires that those who transport, handle, store and disposal hazardous waste obtain a permit. The permit requires person involved in each of these activities to report their activities to EPA. These data are used to create the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). TRI data is made publicly available at the EPA website, but also through the Right-to-Know Network ( under the requirements of the Emergency Planning and Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-499; 42 U.S.C. 11004-11049).

RCRA regulates waste generators, or any person or site that produces hazardous waste as defined by 40. C.F.R. Part 261. Waste generators must track all waste generated and shipped, and appropriately label waste (RCRA 3002) to facilitate waste tracking under the cradle to grave tracking system. Waste generators are the beginning of the process and must follow strict rules to maintain the integrity of the reporting and record keeping system.

Waste handlers must be permitted by the EPA (RCRA Sections 3004, 3005), and any person who wished to do business legally as a waste treatment storage and disposal facility (TSDF) is required to obtain an EPA permit. TSDFs must report all receipts of waste, amount stored and where, shipped off site and to whom, and the treatment and destruction of hazardous waste to EPA. TSDFs must adhere to proper rules for the treatment, storage and disposal of waste (RCRA 3004; for land disposal requirements see, RCRA Section 3013).

Hazardous waste producers and TSDFs are subject to inspection, sampling and other EPA information gathering (RCRA 3007). The EPA may sample at any of these sites without warrant or need for cause. Inspections require a warrant to establish probable cause.
Under RCRA, the EPA may sue any person who contributed to or contributes to imminent danger or substantial endangerment of public or environmental health trough unsafe disposal practices.

RCRA also regulates Underground Storage Tanks (USTs; RCRA, Subtitle I, Sections 9001-9010 and Subtitle C) and Medical Waste (Subtitle J).

RCRA contains a unique provision for citizen initiated suits or Citizen Initiated Acts (RCRA Section 7002). These suits are filed civilly. These suits are barred when EPA plans a criminal prosecution.

Knowing violations of RRCA may result in criminal actions pursued by the Department of Justice at the request of the EPA. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $50,000 per day of violation and/or up to 5 years imprisonment.

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