EPA's Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery (ORCR)
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ORCR’s mission is to protect human health and the environment by promoting the conservation of resources, ensuring proper waste management, preventing harmful exposure, and overseeing the cleanup of land for productive use. We do this by establishing and implementing regulatory standards, incentive-based programs, and best practices in collaboration with communities, governments, businesses, and other organizations. ORCR implements the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
Find out more about our work in our accomplishments report.
A circular economy refers to an economy that uses a systems-focused approach and involves industrial processes and economic activities that are restorative or regenerative by design, enable resources used in such processes and activities to maintain their highest value for as long as possible, and aim for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, and systems (including business models). This approach reduces material use, redesigns materials to be less resource intensive, and recaptures “waste” as a resource to manufacture new materials and products. Circularity is embraced within the sustainable materials management (SMM) approach that EPA and other federal agencies have pursued since 2009.
- Bipartisan Infrastructure Law - Transforming U.S. Recycling and Waste Management: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is an historic investment in the health, equity, and resilience of American communities. With unprecedented funding to support local waste management infrastructure and recycling programs, EPA will improve people’s health and safety and help establish and increase recycling programs nationwide. Under the law, EPA is developing three new waste prevention, reuse, and recycling programs.
- Circular Economy Strategy Series: EPA is developing a series of strategies to build a circular economy for all. The first part of this series is the National Recycling Strategy, which identifies actions to address challenges facing the U.S. municipal solid waste recycling system. Subsequent strategies will address other key materials, such as plastics, food, and electronics.
- Sustainable Management of Food: Sustainable management of food seeks to reduce wasted food and its associated impacts over the entire life cycle, starting with the use of natural resources, manufacturing, sales, and consumption, and ending with decisions on recovery or final disposal. EPA works to promote innovation and highlight the value and efficient management of food as a resource. Through the sustainable management of food, we can help businesses and consumers save money, provide a bridge in our communities for those who do not have enough to eat, and conserve resources for future generations.
- Sustainable Management of Electronics: The use of electronic products has grown substantially over the past two decades, changing the way and the speed in which we communicate, and how we get information and entertainment. A long-term approach towards electronics stewardship is necessary both at work and at home. With the prevalence of electronics in mind, the federal government is committed to being a responsible consumer of electronics and a leader of electronics stewardship in the United States.
- Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling: EPA began analyzing data on waste and materials recycling several decades ago, and the Agency has data tables that go back to the 1960s. The Facts and Figures Report looks at existing data on generation, recycling, composting, combustion with energy recovery, landfilling for a variety of materials and products, and other pathways for food.
- Waste Reduction Model (WARM): EPA created WARM to help solid waste planners and organizations track and voluntarily report greenhouse gas emission reductions, energy savings, and economic impacts from several different waste management practices. WARM calculates and totals these impacts from baseline and alternative waste management practices—source reduction, recycling, anaerobic digestion, combustion, composting and landfilling.
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. Making a new product requires a lot of materials and energy - raw materials must be extracted from the Earth, the product must be fabricated, and then transported to wherever it will be sold. As a result, reduction and reuse are the most effective ways you can save natural resources, protect the environment, and save money.
Hazardous Waste Program
RCRA gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from the "cradle-to-grave." This includes the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. To achieve this, EPA develops regulations, guidance, and policies that ensure the safe management and cleanup of solid and hazardous waste, as well as programs that encourage source reduction and beneficial reuse.
- Hazardous Waste Generators: Many industries generate hazardous waste. EPA regulates hazardous waste under RCRA to ensure these wastes are managed in ways that protect human health and the environment. Generators of hazardous waste are regulated based on the amount of hazardous waste they generate in a calendar month, not the size of their businesses or facilities.
- Data Collection and Reporting Systems:
- RCRAInfo Web: EPA, in partnership with the States, biennially collects information regarding the generation, management, and final disposition of hazardous waste regulated under RCRA. EPA communicates the findings of EPA's hazardous waste data collection efforts to the public, government agencies, and the regulated community through RCRAInfo Web.
- RCRAInfo: EPA's comprehensive information system, RCRAInfo, provides access to data supporting RCRA. The system enables cradle-to-grave waste tracking of many types of information regarding the regulated universe of RCRA hazardous waste handlers. RCRAInfo characterizes facility status, regulated activities, and compliance histories, in addition to capturing detailed data on the generation of hazardous waste from large quantity generators and on waste management practices from treatment, storage, and disposal facilities.
- Hazardous Waste Test Methods: In support of RCRA, EPA developed test methods for the analysis of various environmental media. These test methods can be found in the EPA publication, Test Methods for Evaluating Solid Waste: Physical/Chemical Methods.
- Electronic Manifest (e-Manifest) Program: EPA established a national system for tracking hazardous waste shipments electronically, known as “e-Manifest.” This system modernizes the nation’s cradle-to-grave hazardous waste tracking process while saving valuable time, resources, and dollars for industry and states.
- Hazardous Waste Permitting: The RCRA hazardous waste permitting program ensures the safe management of hazardous waste. Under this program, EPA establishes requirements regarding the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. The permitting program is important to the cradle-to-grave management system for hazardous waste, which prevents dangerous releases and avoids costly Superfund cleanups. Permits are issued by authorized states or EPA regional offices.
- RCRA Corrective Action Program: EPA and 44 authorized states and territories work with hazardous waste facilities to investigate and clean up any release of hazardous waste into the soil, groundwater, surface water, and air through the RCRA Corrective Action program. RCRA Corrective Action cleanups support healthy and sustainable communities where people and the environment are protected from hazardous contamination today and into the future.
- State Authorization: State authorization is a rulemaking process that EPA delegates the primary responsibility of implementing the RCRA hazardous waste program to individual states in lieu of EPA. This process ensures national consistency and minimum standards while providing flexibility to states in implementing rules.
Non-Hazardous Waste Regulations
Non-hazardous solid waste is regulated under Subtitle D of RCRA. Regulations established under Subtitle D ban open dumping of waste and set minimum federal criteria for the operation of municipal waste and industrial waste landfills, including design criteria, location restrictions, financial assurance, corrective action (cleanup), and closure requirement. States play a lead role in implementing these regulations and may set more stringent requirements.
National Regulations for Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR): CCR, commonly known as coal ash, is created when coal is burned by power plants to produce electricity. Coal ash is one of the largest types of industrial waste generated in the United States. To address the risks from improper disposal and discharge of coal ash, EPA has established national regulations on the safe disposal of coal ash in landfills and surface impoundments.
Managing Materials and Waste for Homeland Security Incidents
Waste management is a critical part of preparation for response and recovery following homeland security and smaller incidents. These may include an act of terrorism involving chemical, biological, and radiological agents, a large-scale natural disaster, or an animal disease outbreak. EPA provides public and private emergency planners, managers, and responders with all-hazards information they can use to increase their communities' resiliency to these incidents.
Tribal Waste Management Program
EPA encourages environmentally sound waste management practices that promote resource conservation through recycling, recovery, reduction, clean-up, and elimination of waste. The Tribal Waste Management Program provides national policy direction and partners with the EPA Regions and other federal agencies to assist tribes with the management of their waste. The Tribal Waste Management Program also provides technical assistance, training and funding, and facilitates waste program peer matches among tribes, education, and outreach to tribes.
EPA works to ensure that waste is managed in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment through international initiatives. EPA’s efforts to sustainably manage waste include supporting the reduction and prevention of waste generation, promoting and facilitating the reuse and safe recycling of waste, and controlling imports and exports of hazardous waste between the United States and other countries.
The Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) Program
PCBs are toxic chemicals that would pose a risk to communities if improperly managed or controlled. The Toxic Substances Control Act provides EPA with authority to require reporting, record-keeping and testing requirements, and restrictions relating to chemical substances and/or mixtures, including PCBs. EPA's PCB regulations cover the use, clean-up, and disposal of PCBs.