The U.S. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act was passed in 1976. Called RCRA, the law was a response to the problem of how to dispose of a nation's solid waste.
The problem of large quantities of solid waste has grown drastically within the last
century. For example: in the 1940s, 500,000 tons of hazardous waste was generated annually, but by 1985 this figure had risen to 275 million. Such toxic waste began to pose a threat to both the environment and humans, and thus RCRA was passed. It had three main goals: to preserve human and environmental health; to conserve energy and natural resources, and to reduce and eliminate the generation of hazardous waste.
created four programs to help attain these goals: one encouraging states to develop plans for non-hazardous solid waste; one controlling hazardous waste "from cradle to grave"; one regulating underground storage tanks; and one to track medical waste.
The first program initiated by RCRA encouraged states to develop their own plans for coping with solid waste. It was meant to promote recycling and the closing of previously used environmentally unsound dumps. The states were to
carry this out with assistance from the EPA. The second program, the tracking of hazardous material, was intended to ensure that such waste was handled with care for the environment as well as humans. It covers all aspects of a chemical's lifespan, including generation, transportation, and disposal. After a chemical is deemed hazardous, regulations are set for its handlers, generators, transporters, and owners of disposal facilities. This program also sets safety
standards for various facilities, designed to reduce chemical releases. The third program set various regulations for underground tanks. It was intended to prevent leakage of toxic chemicals into groundwater. Regulations include performance standards, leak detection, and financial responsibility. States may be given authority over this program. Finally, the fourth program instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a two-year medical waste tracking
program. Then the decision would be made of the merits of such regulation.
The Act also took the first steps in establishing these programs by setting guidelines and designating a number of responsibilities to the EPA. Among these are developing regulations, guidance documents, and policy statements. The EPA must then either implement RCRA or delegate this job to the states and provide them assistance.
RCRA has been amended several times, most importantly in
1984 when the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments were added. These expanded the reach and authority of RCRA.
The text of the law