The Resource and Recovery Act (RCRA) is the primary national law governing the disposal of solid and hazardous waste. RCRA bans all open dumping of waste, encourages recycling and promotes the safe disposal the safe disposal of municipal waste. It also mandates strict controls over the treatment storage and disposal of hazardous waste. Households create ordinary garbage, while industrial and manufacturing processes create solid and hazardous waste.

Congress passed RCRA on October 21, 1976 to address the increasing problems from the nation's growing colume of municpal and industrial waste. RCRA, which amended the Solid Wate Disposal Act of 1965, set national goals for:

  • Protecting human health and the environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal.
  • Conserving energy and natural resources by recycling and recovery.
  • Reducing or elimiating the amount of waste generated.
  • Ensuring that wastes are managed in an environmentally-sound manner, and cleaning up waste that may have spilled, leaked, or been improperly disposed.

To achieve these goals, RCRA features three distinct programs:

  • The solid waste program, under RCRA Subtitle D, encourages states to develop comprehensive plans to manage non-hazardous industrial and municipal solid waste, sets criteria for municipal solid waste landfills and other solid waste disposal facilities, and prohibits the open dumping of solid waste.
  • The hazardous waste program, under RCRA Subtitle C, establishes a system for controlling hazardous waste from the time it is generated units its ultimate disposal - in effect, from "cradle to grave".
  • The underground storage tank (UST) program, under RCRA Subtitle I, regulates underground storage tanks containing hazardous substances and petoleum products.

RCRA was amended strengthened by Congress in November 1984 with the passing of the Federal Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA). These amendments to RCRA required the phasing out land disposal of hazardous waste.

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