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The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enacted in 1976, is the principal Federal law in the United States governing the proper management and disposal of hazardous waste. The law describes the waste management program mandated by Congress that gave the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to develop the RCRA program.  

The term “RCRA” is often used interchangeably to refer to the law, regulations, and EPA policy and guidance. The Federal regulations governing hazardous waste are codified in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations at parts 260 through 273 (40 CFR 260 – 273). States are authorized to operate their own hazardous waste programs, which must be at least as stringent as Federal standards.

Industrial facilities that generate hazardous wastes are subject to different requirements for management and disposal according to the quantity of hazardous wastes they generate, with more stringent requirements imposed with increasing quantities. 

Hazardous waste generators fall into one of the following three categories:

  • Very Small Quantity Generators (VSQGs) – generate ≤ 100 kilograms (220 pounds) per month (kg/month) of hazardous waste or ≤ one kg/month of acutely hazardous waste; 
  • Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) – generate > 100 kg/month, but < 1,000 kg/month (2,200 lb/month) of hazardous waste; and 
  • Large Quantity Generators (LQGs) – generate ≥ 1,000 kg/month (2,200 lb/month) of hazardous waste or > one kg/month of acutely hazardous waste. 

The following table summarizes some of the RCRA requirements applicable by generator category.

Requirement VSQG SQG LQG
EPA ID Number Not required Required Required
On-Site Accumulation
Quantity
≤1,000 kg or
≤1 kg acute
hazardous waste or
≤100 kg of acute
spill residue or soil
≤6,000 kg No limit
Accumulation
Time Limits
None≤180 days or
≤270 days
(if transporting greater
than 200 miles)
≤90 days
Containment
Requirements
NoneBasic requirements
with technical
standards for
containers, tanks,
drip pads or containment
buildings
Full compliance for
containers, tanks,
drip pads or
containment buildings
Personnel
Training
Not requiredBasic training
required
More rigorous and
formalized training
required with written
job descriptions and
qualifications defined
Contingency Plan and
Emergency Procedures
Not required Basic training
required
Full Contingency
Plan required
Preparedness
and Prevention
Not required Basic training
required
Full preparedness and
agreements with
local emergency
responders required
Land Disposal
Restrictions
Not requiredRequiredRequired
Manifest Not required Required Required
Waste
Minimization
NoneGood faith
effort required
More formal
program/policy
in place required
Weekly
Inspections
Not required RequiredRequired
Packaging and
Labeling Requirements
Only if required
by the DOT or the state
RequiredRequired
Biennial
Report
Not requiredNot requiredRequired

The RCRA regulations are detailed, spread throughout several sections and can be difficult to understand without substantial hazardous waste expertise. Without this expertise, it can be confusing to interpret what requirements are applicable and how to comply. An effective and efficient hazardous waste management program is typically tailored to be very specific to the industrial facility and hazardous waste streams generated to fit the specific requirements applicable.

The assistance of a qualified environmental consultant can be immensely beneficial. Even for facilities with years of experience managing hazardous wastes, it may be of value to have a third party consultant evaluate an existing program with significant history to bring on fresh eyes and ideas. Waste profiles should be updated and re-evaluated periodically to ensure continued compliance. Consideration should also be paid to new recycling, waste minimization, management practices, and disposal options that could be available to reduce toxicity, quantity and costs.. 

The EI Group, Inc. environmental compliance professionals are well versed in RCRA requirements applicable to industry, cost effective solutions to managing hazardous wastes, and program development and implementation.  

If you have questions regarding RCRA or other environmental concerns, contact Mark Cramer, PE at (919) 459-5229 or mcramer@ei1.com.