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History of RCRA

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act — commonly referred to as RCRA — is our nation’s primary law governing the disposal of solid and hazardous waste. Congress passed RCRA on October 21, 1976 to address the increasing problems the nation faced from our growing volume of municipal and industrial waste. RCRA, which amended the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965, set national goals for:

To achieve these goals, RCRA established three distinct, yet interrelated, programs:

RCRA banned all open dumping of waste, encouraged source reduction and recycling, and promoted the safe disposal of municipal waste. RCRA also mandated strict controls over the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. The first RCRA regulations, “Hazardous Waste and Consolidated Permit Regulations,” published in the Federal Register on May 19, 1980 (45 FR 33066; May 19, 1980), established the basic “cradle to grave” approach to hazardous waste management that exists today.

RCRA was amended and strengthened by Congress in November 1984 with the passing of the Federal Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA). These amendments to RCRA required phasing out land disposal of hazardous waste. Some of the other mandates of this strict law include increased enforcement authority for EPA, more stringent hazardous waste management standards, and a comprehensive underground storage tank program.

RCRA has been amended on two occasions since HSWA:

  1. Federal Facility Compliance Act of 1992 – strengthened enforcement of RCRA at Federal facilities.
  2. Land Disposal Program Flexibility Act of 1996 (5 pp, 24KB) – provided regulatory flexibility for land disposal of certain wastes.

RCRA focuses only on active and future facilities and does not address abandoned or historical sites which are managed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) – commonly known as Superfund.

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