The Trash Blog

What is RCRA?

By 1960, the US was generating 88 million tons of garbage every year. The previous half century had seen the emergence of disposable paper and plastic items, cheap appliances and other consumer goods with short lives, an expansion of types of materials in garbage, and a drastic increase in packaging. Garbage was becoming a big problem.

Vincent Van Gross and Decorating DebCongress passed the Solid Waste Disposal Act in 1965 because disposal of all this waste was largely unregulated, with communities practicing open dumping and burning. The act was amended in 1976 by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which, along with various amendments, is the law that still regulates solid waste in the US. In the industry, when you see RCRA you say “wreck-rah” or “rick-rah”.

RCRA has 10 subtitles (A-J), but you mostly hear about two: Subtitle-C and Subtitle-D. Subtitle-D deals with nonhazardous solid waste and Subtitle-C regulates hazardous waste.

GPK DSubtitle-D defines solid waste as garbage, refuse, sludges from waste treatment plants, water treatment plants, or pollution control facilities, industrial wastes, other discarded materials, including solid, semisolid, liquid, or contained gaseous materials resulting from industrial, commercial, mining, agricultural, and community activities.

One of the most significant effects of Subtitle-D was that it forced many municipalities out of the landfill business by designating as an open dump any disposal facility that did not meet the new standards. RCRA required costly upgrades for landfills. Many of the smaller municipal landfills did not receive the volume of waste that was needed to make such upgrades financially viable. There were as many as 8,000 landfills in 1988, when RCRA came out. Now there are as few as 1,600 (although landfill capacity in the US has grown).

Yoga OlgaSubtitle-C created a cradle-to-grave management system for hazardous waste in the United States, tracking hazardous waste from generation through transportation to its final disposal. Subtitle C requires every shipment of hazardous waste to be tracked by a manifest called the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest (EPA Form 8700-22). Each generator, transporter, treatment, storage, and disposal facility must sign the manifest when they receive the waste and retain a copy. (True to form, the EPA has also published a ten-page list of instructions about how to fill out the manifest). I found an interesting FAQ on hazardous waste that explains several other points.

RCRA, like most large-scale laws, suffers from an inability to be nimble. For example, all landfills are required to meet the same environmental protection criteria, regardless of their proximity to populations. As landfill expert G Fred Lee explained to us, it makes more sense to have laws that regulate how much environmental degradation is acceptable based on location, rather than to create a wishful standard of perfection.

Christina Barfina and Farrah FaucetIf you are interested in learning more about RCRA, you can read the EPA’s official Orientation Manual. The full-text of the act is available here. If you are interested in learning more about the artwork in this post, please visit this Wikipedia article.

This entry was written by Philip and published on September 18, 2013 at 12:30 pm. It’s filed under Economics, Facts, Hazardous Waste, History, Landfills, Laws and Regulations and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “What is RCRA?

  1. Uncle Chris on said:

    So much in this post to which one can respond . . . .


    First, I predict a future mind meld with the author . . . . .


    Second, the artwork is something about which I have no interest in learning more. In fact, some of it may form the basis of future nightmares. HA!

    Nevertheless, some of the titles seem clever.


    Third, I was stunned see that no comments had been filed to the RCRA document on the Whitehouse site, despite the fact that the document is dated December, 2002. At the very least one might believe that some sort of contest among the readers might have developed in these comments over the past 11 years, such as:

    “I read through the definitions all the way to ‘long-term contract’ before becoming comatose.”

    “You pansy! I flat lined five times while writing my doctoral thesis on the logic behind defining ‘solid waste’ as something that could include ‘liquids’.”


    Fourth, having been in the trucking business for a decade, I was relieved to discover the
    transportation manifest form EPA Form 8700-22. Finally, we can kill a forest keeping track of our hazardous waste through innumerable copies, all meticulously filed.

    This is a form with only 20 boxes to complete. As such it rivals W-9 and 1099 forms in brevity.

    Further, the pride of possessing a ‘Generator ID Number’ or a ‘USA EPA ID Number’ must never diminish for those who paid the fees, filled out the forms, and suffered through the audits to acquire them. Think of the fame of those whose businesses have expanded to require both!

    One must marvel at those whose jobs include looking up ‘Waste Codes’ and then having to both declare and certify that they did so correctly. They probably collect the artwork so well displayed in this post.

    All sarcasm aside, the practicality of the “Form designed for use on elite (12-pitch) typewriter” advisory on this form is surprising. The punch lines for the question an IRS auditor might ask about the deduction of buying two manual typewriters for one employee are endless.


    OK. . this is getting silly. . . but . . thanks for this post!

  2. Not all government regulation is bad. I’m sure there have been some unintended consequences from RCRA, but in general, I think it has been a good law. I actually deal with several different components of it at work.

  3. Pingback: Location, Location, Incineration | The Trash Blog

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