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Please note: This summary is provided to help you understand the regulations. Consult the references provided for links to the full text of the regulations.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)

Road Rail Air Water


The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enacted in 1976, contains a number of important environmental regulations that impact the transportation industry, including:

An overview of each topic is presented in this section along with links to more detailed information.

Non-Hazardous Solid Waste

Subtitle D of RCRA and its implementing regulations apply to the management of solid, nonhazardous waste and its disposal in landfills. Subtitle D applies to transportation facilities because it prohibits open dumping of solid, nonhazardous wastes, which is defined as any garbage, refuse, or sludge from waste treatment plants, water treatment plants, or air pollution control equipment. This definition includes just about any waste generated by transportation facilities that is not "hazardous," including wastes discarded by shops, offices, cafeterias, etc.

Solid wastes are disposed of in the U.S. Primarily by landfilling. In many states, landfills are quickly reaching their capacity and will be closed in the future. Building new landfills is difficult because they encompass large land areas and local citizens are usually opposed to siting them nearby. Many local jurisdictions also operate incinerators to burn solid waste before landfilling, which greatly reduces the volume of waste. Also, incinerators can potentially recover energy from the combustion process. The main drawback of incinerators is the release of air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide as well as trace amounts of toxic pollutants, such as mercury compounds and dioxins. Emissions from incinerators are regulated under the Clean Air Act.

Programs addressing the disposal of solid, nonhazardous wastes are developed and enforced at the state or local level. Each state must submit an application to EPA in order to receive approval for its program. This approval process assesses whether a state's program is sufficient to ensure each landfill's compliance with federal criteria under RCRA, Subtitle D. States may impose requirements that are more stringent than the federal requirements.

Hazardous Solid Waste

Regulations enacted under (40 CFR 260-299) establish a "cradle-to-grave" system governing hazardous waste from the point of generation to disposal. RCRA hazardous wastes include the specific materials listed in the regulations or materials which exhibit a hazardous waste characteristic (ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity).

Regulated entities that generate hazardous waste are subject to waste accumulation, manifesting, and recordkeeping standards. Facilities that treat, store, or dispose of hazardous waste must obtain a permit, either from EPA or from a state agency which EPA has authorized to implement the permitting program. Subtitle C permits contain general facility standards such as contingency plans, emergency procedures, recordkeeping and reporting requirements, financial assurance mechanisms, and unit-specific standards. RCRA also contains provisions for conducting corrective actions which govern the cleanup of releases of hazardous waste or constituents from solid waste management units at RCRA-regulated facilities.

Most RCRA requirements are not industry specific but apply to any company that generates, transports, treats, stores, or disposes of hazardous waste. Although RCRA is a federal statute, EPA has delegated its authority to 46 states to implement various provisions of RCRA. Important RCRA regulatory requirements include:

  • Identification of Solid and Hazardous Wastes (40 CFR 261) lays out the procedure every generator should follow to determine whether the material created is considered a solid waste, hazardous waste, or is exempt from regulation. Potential hazardous wastes generated by transportation facilities include spent solvents, spent acids or caustic solutions, and painting wastes.

  • Standards for Generators of Hazardous Waste (40 CFR 262) establishes the responsibilities of hazardous waste generators including obtaining an identification (ID) number, preparing a manifest, ensuring proper packaging and labeling, meeting standards for waste accumulation units, and recordkeeping and reporting requirements. The responsibilities

  • Land Disposal Restrictions (LDRs) (40 CFR 268) are regulations prohibiting the disposal of hazardous waste on land without prior treatment. Under the LDRs, materials must meet LDR treatment standards for hazardous constituents prior to placement in a RCRA land disposal unit (landfill, land treatment unit, waste pile, or surface impoundment).

  • Used Oil Management Standards (40 CFR 279) impose management requirements affecting the storage, transportation, burning, processing, and re-refining of the used oil. For parties that merely generate used oil, regulations establish storage standards. (See below for additional information on used oil standards.)

For state-specific hazardous waste regulatory information, see the RCRA Hazardous Waste State Locator.

Universal Waste

EPA issued the Universal Waste Rule in 1995 as an amendment to RCRA. It provides an alternative and less stringent set of management standards to those in the hazardous waste regulations for four specific, but widely generated, types of waste that potentially would be regulated as hazardous. These wastes are:

  • Batteries that are spent and will not be reclaimed or regenerated either at your facility or at a battery recycling/reclamation facility. Types of batteries that your facility may generate that would be universal wastes include those in electronic equipment, mobile telephones, portable computers, and emergency backup lighting. (For more information see the TERC battery section). link to battery section

  • Pesticides that have been suspended or canceled including those that are part of a voluntary or mandatory recall under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) or by the pesticide registrant; are unused but managed as part of a waste pesticide collection program; or are obsolete or damaged. (For more information see the TERC pesticide section). link to pesticide section

  • Mercury containing equipment including thermostats and vehicle tilt switches.

  • Mercury-containing light bulbs, including compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) after they burn out.

The Universal Waste rule establishes requirements applicable to four types of universal waste generators or collectors: small quantity handlers, large quantity handlers, transporters, and destination facilities. Specific requirements of the universal waste rule can be found at 40 CFR 273.

Many states have expanded the list of universal wastes. For more information, see the Universal Waste State Resources Locator.

Underground Storage Tanks (USTs)

An underground storage tank (UST) is "any one or combination of tanks (including underground pipes connected thereto) that is used to contain an accumulation of regulated substances, and the volume of which (including the volume of underground pipes) is ten percent or more beneath the surface of the ground."

USTs are subject to strict state and federal requirements (see EPA Enforcement Alert). Federal regulations of USTs, contained in 40 CFR 280, require that all regulated UST systems be designed and constructed to retain their structural integrity throughout their operating life, and all USTs and attached piping be protected from corrosion. In addition, all systems must be equipped with spill and overfill protection and leak detection monitoring.

Subtitle I of RCRA governs activities and requirements related to UST systems. Subtitle I established a new and comprehensive regulatory program for UST systems containing petroleum products or substances defined as hazardous under CERCLA. Subtitle I includes the following provisions for UST systems:

  • Design, construction, installation, operating, and notification requirements for new and existing systems;
  • Release detection, reporting, investigation, confirmation, release response, and corrective action for systems containing petroleum or hazardous substances; and
  • System closure requirements.

States generally have the same requirements as RCRA Subtitle I. However, some states (and municipalities) have more stringent UST regulations. You should contact your state regulatory agency and your local municipality to determine if there are additional UST regulations with which you must comply.

The federal UST regulations do not apply to:

  • Tanks with a capacity of 110 gallons or less
  • Farm or residential tanks holding 1,100 gallons or less of motor fuel used for noncommercial purposes
  • Tanks storing heating oil, where the oil issued on the property where it is stored
  • Tanks on or above the floor in underground include fuel for boilers for process areas (e.g., basements)
  • Septic tanks and systems for collecting storm water and wastewater
  • Flow-through process tanks
  • Emergency spill and overfill tanks

Requirements for notification, recordkeeping, leak detection, and spill, overfill, and corrosion protection are found in 40 CFR 280.

Currently 36 states and the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have approved "state" programs. To check on your state regulations, use the Underground Storage Tank (UST) State Rules Locator.

Used Oil Management

If you generate used oil at your facility, you are responsible for ensuring that it is managed properly. A generator of used oil has been used and as a result of such use is produces used oil through commercial and industrial operations, or collects it from these operations. The definition of used oil includes oils that are used as hydraulic fluids as well as oils that are used to lubricate automobiles and other machinery, cool engines, or suspend materials in industrial processes.

If your facility generates used oil, you must follow the used oil management standards found in 40 CFR 279. Some of these requirements include:

  • Keeping storage tanks and containers in good condition
  • Labeling storage tanks and containers "Used Oil"
  • Cleaning up any used oil spills or leaks to the environment
  • Using a transporter with an EPA ID number when shipping used oil offsite

Please note that used oil is not categorized as hazardous waste under federal RCRA requirements; however, it may be under some state regulations. For example, California classifies used oil as hazardous waste. In addition, used oil may have strict disposal requirements in some states. Be sure to contact your state regulatory agency for information on how to manage used oil.

For more information, see the TERC page on Used Oil.