FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions About Hazardous Waste and RCRA

Frequently Asked Questions
about Waste: Hazardous Waste and Nonhazardous Waste (a.k.a. "Solid" Waste)

What is RCRA?
RCRA is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which was enacted by Congress in 1976. RCRA's primary goals 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.

What is regulated under RCRA?
RCRA regulates the management of solid waste (e.g., garbage), hazardous waste, and underground storage tanks holding petroleum products or certain chemicals.

What is a RCRA hazardous waste?
Wastes that exhibit certain characteristics may be regulated by RCRA. 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, semi-solid, or even liquid.

What is a RCRA solid waste?
According to the EPA regulations, 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, semi- solid, or contained gaseous material resulting from industrial, commercial, mining, and agricultural operations, and from community activities.

Who is regulated by the RCRA hazardous waste program? and... Who is regulated by the RCRA municipal solid waste program?
The RCRA hazardous waste program regulates commercial businesses as well as federal, state and local government facilities that generate, transport, treat, store, or dispose of hazardous waste. Each of these entities is regulated to ensure proper management of hazardous waste from the moment it is generated until its ultimate disposal or destruction. The RCRA municipal solid waste program regulates owners and operators of municipal solid waste landfills. The regulations stipulate minimum criteria that each landfill must meet in order to continue operating.

Can anyone handle RCRA hazardous waste?
No . Handlers of hazardous waste must meet certain regulatory requirements. Generators and transporters must have government issued identification numbers, and comply with other regulations regarding the handling of hazardous waste. Treatment, storage and disposal facilities must meet even more stringent requirements, and must have a permit to operate.

Do citizens have any control over the construction of a waste facility in their community?
The RCRA regulations require public participation, such as public meetings, throughout the permitting process for new hazardous and solid waste treatment, storage, or disposal facilities. Public participation provides citizens with a forum to express their concerns over the construction of a new facility.

How can I report environmental problems with waste management?
The public may discuss environmental problems and concerns over waste management with their local or state government waste management division. Another resource for solid and hazardous waste issues is your EPA Regional office.

How much hazardous waste is generated each year in the United States?
In 1995, nearly 20,000 hazardous waste generators produced 279 million tons of hazardous waste regulated by RCRA.

How much municipal solid waste is generated each year in the United States?
In 1995, approximately 208 million tons of municipal solid waste was generated in the United States. This means each person generated an average of 4.3 pounds of solid waste per day.

What types of businesses generate hazardous waste?
Many types of businesses generate hazardous waste. Some are small companies that may be located in your community. For example, the following types of businesses typically generate hazardous waste: dry cleaners, auto repair shops, hospitals, exterminators, and photo processing centers. Some hazardous waste generators are larger companies like chemical manufacturers, electroplating companies, and petroleum refineries.

How should household hazardous waste (e.g., paint, paint thinner, batteries, used oil) be disposed?
Hazardous wastes that are generated in the home, like mineral spirits and old paint, are not regulated by the federal RCRA program. Many communities provide collection centers or pick-up services for the management of household hazardous waste.

Who regulates landfills that accept municipal garbage? and... Can these municipal landfills accept hazardous waste?
Landfills that collect household garbage are predominately regulated by State and local governments. EPA has, however, established minimum criteria that these landfills must meet in order to stay open. The only hazardous waste that municipal landfills can accept is household hazardous waste and waste that is exempt from hazardous waste regulation.

RCRA Orientation Manual
This manual provides introductory information on solid and hazardous waste management programs under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

RCRA: Reducing Risk from Waste
en Español
This document provides an overview of the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act (RCRA) solid and hazardous waste regulations.

Where can I get answers to more questions about RCRA?
Call the
RCRA Hotline at (800) 424-9346 or (703) 412-9810 (from the Washington, DC area). The Hotline is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. eastern time, or click here to go to our list of topics

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