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Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

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The objectives of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) are to protect human health and the environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal, to conserve energy and natural resources, to reduce the amount of waste generated, and to ensure that wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner.  RCRA regulates the management of solid waste (e.g., garbage), hazardous waste, and underground storage tanks holding petroleum products or certain chemicals.

Summary of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

Agriculture-Specific Requirements

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Waste

Related publications from the Ag Center
Waste

Text of law and related regulation
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Exit EPA
40 CFR Parts 239 - 282 (Parts 239-259; Parts 260-265; Parts 266-282)

More information from EPA 
RCRA Online Database
RCRA Orientation Manual
Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response
Wastes - Resource Conservation
Office of Underground Storage Tanks
Catalog of Hazardous and Solid Waste Publications (PDF) (420pp, 4.3MB)

More information from states Exit EPA
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) - Representatives of the state departments of agriculture in the development, implementation, and communication of sound public policy and programs which support and promote the American agricultural industry, while protecting consumers and the environment.
EZregs - University of Illinois Extension Web site that identifies environmental regulations that pertain to specific agricultural and horticultural operations and practices in Illinois.

RCRA compliance and enforcement
RCRA: Agriculture-Related Enforcement Cases
RCRA Enforcement Policy and Guidance
RCRA Enforcement
RCRA Statute, Regulations & Enforcement
Underground Storage Tanks Publications
Protocol for Conducting Environmental Compliance Audits of Storage Tanks under RCRA (PDF) (162 pp, 11.7MB)
Protocol for Conducting Environmental Compliance Audits of Facilities Regulated under Subtitle D of RCRA (PDF) (153 pp, 755K)
Protocol for Conducting Environmental Compliance Audits for Hazardous Waste Generators under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (PDF) (178 pp, 1.8MB)
Protocol for Conducting Environmental Compliance Audits of Treatment Storage and Disposal Facilities under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (12/98) (PDF) (246 pp, 2.5MB)

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About RCRA

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976, which amended the Solid Waste Disposal Act, addresses solid (Subtitle D) and hazardous (Subtitle C) waste management activities. The Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA) of 1984 strengthened RCRA’s waste management provisions and added Subtitle I, which governs underground storage tanks (USTs).

Regulations promulgated pursuant to Subtitle C of RCRA (40 CFR Parts 260-299) establish a "cradle-to-grave" system governing hazardous waste from the point of generation to disposal. RCRA hazardous wastes include the specific materials listed in the regulations (commercial chemical products, designated with the code "P" or "U"; hazardous wastes from specific industries/sources, designated with the code "K"; hazardous wastes from nonspecific sources, designated with the code "F") and materials which exhibit a hazardous waste characteristic (ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity) designated with the code "D".

Regulated entities that generate hazardous waste are subject to waste accumulation, manifesting, and recordkeeping standards. Facilities that treat, store, or dispose of hazardous waste must obtain a permit, either from EPA or from a state agency that EPA has authorized to implement the permitting program. Subtitle C permits contain general facility standards such as contingency plans, emergency procedures, recordkeeping and reporting requirements, financial assurance mechanisms, and unit-specific standards. RCRA also contains provisions (40 CFR Part 264 Subpart S and Part 264.10) for conducting corrective actions that govern the cleanup of releases of hazardous waste or constituents from solid waste management units at RCRA-regulated facilities.

Although RCRA is a federal statute, many states implement the RCRA program. Currently, EPA has delegated its authority to implement various provisions of RCRA to 46 of the 50 states.

Most RCRA requirements are not industry-specific but apply to any company that generates, transports, treats, stores, or disposes of hazardous waste. Here are some important RCRA regulatory requirements:

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Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste

Solid waste means any garbage or refuse; sludge from a wastewater 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, mining, and agricultural operations, and from community activities. Solid wastes include both hazardous and nonhazardous waste.

A waste may be considered hazardous if it is ignitable (i.e., burns readily), corrosive, or reactive (e.g., explosive). Waste may also be considered hazardous if it contains certain amounts of toxic chemicals. In addition to these characteristic wastes, EPA has also developed a list of over 500 specific hazardous wastes. Hazardous waste takes many physical forms and may be solid, semisolid, or even liquid.

Acute hazardous wastes contain such dangerous chemicals that they could pose a threat to human health and the environment even when properly managed. These wastes are fatal to humans and animals even in low doses.

Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) creates a cradle-to-grave management system for hazardous waste to ensure proper treatment, storage, and disposal in a manner protective of human health and the environment.

Identification of Solid and Hazardous Wastes
This regulation (40 CFR Part 261) lays out the procedure every generator should follow to determine whether the material created is considered a hazardous waste, solid waste, or is exempted from regulation.

Standards for Generators of Hazardous Waste
This regulation (40 CFR Part 262) establishes the responsibilities of hazardous waste generators, including obtaining an identification number, preparing a manifest, ensuring proper packaging and labeling, meeting standards for waste accumulation units, and recordkeeping and reporting requirements. Generators can accumulate hazardous waste for up to 90 days (or 180 days depending on the amount of waste generated) without obtaining a permit for being a treatment, storage, and disposal (TSD) facility.

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

Tanks and Containers
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 and 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.

Hazardous Waste and Agriculture
Irrigation return flows are not considered hazardous waste. Agricultural producers disposing of waste pesticides from their own use are exempt from hazardous waste requirements as long as (1) they triple rinse the emptied containers in accordance with the labeling to facilitate removal of the chemical from the container, and (2) they dispose of the pesticide residue on their own agricultural establishment in a manner consistent with the disposal instructions on the pesticide label.

Disposal of hazardous waste on an agricultural establishment could subject the agricultural producer to significant responsibility, including closure and post-closure care. Off-site disposal of hazardous waste could subject agricultural producers to hazardous waste generator requirements.

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Related environmental requirements 
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Exit EPA
40 CFR Part 261
40 CFR Part 262
40 CFR Part 264
40 CFR Part 265
40 CFR Part 268
40 CFR Part 270
40 CFR Part 271

More information from EPA
Catalog of Hazardous and Solid Waste Publications (PDF) (420pp, 4.3MB)
Hazardous Waste Identification
RCRA Enforcement
Waste
Waste Minimization
Land Disposal Restrictions: Summary of Requirements (PDF) (119 pp, 904K)
Hazardous Waste Listings (PDF) (118 pp, 612K) - A user-friendly reference document that describes EPA’s hazardous waste listing regulations under the authority of RCRA Subtitle C1

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Universal Waste

The Universal Waste rule is designed to reduce the amount of hazardous waste items in the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream, encourage recycling and proper disposal of certain common hazardous wastes, and reduce the regulatory burden on businesses that generate these wastes. Universal wastes include:

Universal wastes are generated by small and large businesses that are regulated under RCRA and have been required to handle these materials as hazardous wastes. The Universal Waste Rule eases the regulatory burden on businesses that generate these wastes. Specifically, it streamlines the requirements related to notification, labeling, marking, prohibitions, accumulation time limits, employee training, response to releases, offsite shipments, tracking, exports, and transportation. For example, the rule extends the amount of time that businesses can accumulate these materials on site. It also allows companies to transport them with a common carrier, instead of a hazardous waste transporter, and no longer requires companies to obtain a manifest.

Universal Waste and Agriculture
The universal waste rule does not apply to businesses, such as many agricultural establishments and other agribusinesses, that generate less than 100 kilograms of universal wastes per month (Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators). EPA encourages these businesses to participate voluntarily in collection and recycling programs by bringing these wastes to collection centers for proper treatment and disposal.

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Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Exit EPA
40 CFR Part 273

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Universal Waste Rule

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Used Oil Management Standards

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 facilities that merely generate used oil, the regulations establish storage standards. A facility that is considered a used oil marketer (one who generates and sells off-specification used oil directly to a used oil burner) must satisfy additional tracking and paperwork requirements.

EPA's regulatory definition of used oil is as follows: Used oil is any oil (either synthetic or refined from crude oil) that has been used, and as a result of such  use is contaminated by physical or chemical impurities. Simply put, used oil is exactly what its name implies -- any petroleum-based or synthetic oil that has been used. During normal use, impurities such as dirt, metal scrapings, water, or chemicals can get mixed in with the oil, so that in time the oil no longer performs well. Eventually, this used oil must be replaced with virgin or re-refined oil to do the job at hand.

EPA's used oil management standards include a three-pronged approach to determine if a substance meets the definition of used oil. To meet EPA's definition of used oil, a substance must meet each of the following three criteria:

Used Oil and Agriculture
Agricultural producers who generate an average of 25 gallons or less per month from vehicles or machinery per calendar year are exempt from these regulations. Those exceeding 25 gallons are required to store it in tanks meeting underground or above-ground technical requirements and use transporters with EPA authorization numbers for removal from the agricultural establishment. Storage in unlined surface impoundments (defined as wider than they are deep) is banned.

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40 CFR Part 279

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Managing Used Oil: Advice for Small Businesses
Used Oil Management Program

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Underground Storage Tanks

An underground storage tank (UST) system is a tank and any underground piping connected to the tank that has at least 10 percent of its combined volume underground. Underground storage tanks containing petroleum and hazardous substances are regulated under Subtitle I of RCRA. Subtitle I regulations (40 CFR Part 280 contain tank design and release detection requirements, as well as financial responsibility and corrective action standards for USTs. The UST program also establishes increasingly stringent standards, including upgrade requirements for existing tanks, that were to be met by 1998.

In 1984, Congress responded to the increasing threat to groundwater posed by leaking USTs by adding Subtitle I to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Subtitle I required EPA to develop a comprehensive regulatory program for USTs storing petroleum or certain hazardous substances.

In 1986, Congress amended Subtitle I of RCRA and created the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund and established financial responsibility requirements. Congress directed EPA to publish regulations that would require UST owners and operators to demonstrate that they are financially capable of cleaning up releases and compensating third parties for resulting damages.

The following USTs are excluded from regulation and, therefore, do not need to meet federal requirements for USTs:

Subtitle I of RCRA allows state UST programs approved by EPA to operate in lieu of the federal program, and EPA's state program approval regulations set standards for state programs to meet. States may have more stringent regulations than the federal requirements. People who are interested in requirements for USTs should contact their state UST program for information on state requirements.

Underground Storage Tanks and Agriculture  
For agricultural establishments, underground storage tanks and their associated piping (USTs) holding less than 1,100 gallons of motor fuel for noncommercial purposes, tanks holding less than 110 gallons, tanks holding heating oil used on the premises, and septic tanks are excluded from regulations. All newly installed   regulated USTs are required to meet regulations related to construction, monitoring, operating, reporting to state or federal regulatory agencies, owner recordkeeping, and financial responsibility. Requirements for regulated USTs installed before December 22, 1988, were phased in through December 2,1998.

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Underground Storage Tanks

Related environmental requirements
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Exit EPA
40 CFR Part 280
40 CFR Part 281

More information from EPA
Office of Underground Storage Tanks
UST Corrective Action Enforcement Documents

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