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What is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)?
Blog...What is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)?

What is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)?

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What is the RCRA, otherwise known as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act – and how does it help the environment?
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Rising global surface temperatures aren’t the only massive problem concerning humanity and our planet. Excessive waste is also contributing to excessive greenhouse gasses and carbon dioxide emissions, and even though recycling exists – it’s not the most reliable or efficient way to mitigate overwhelming amounts of landfill.

What is the RCRA, otherwise known as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act – and how can it help to avoid hazardous waste and further pollution?

In this article, we'll explain what the RCRA is and its main goal, how the RCRA works, and how you or your company can help to make sure that the RCRA is successful.

What is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)?

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, otherwise more commonly referred to as the RCRA, is program in the United States which works to govern the disposal of solid waste and hazardous waste – ultimately, as an effort to help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions caused by excess landfill.

Rising global surface temperatures aren’t the only massive problem concerning humanity and our planet. Excessive waste is also contributing to excessive greenhouse gasses and carbon dioxide emissions, and even though recycling exists – it’s not the most reliable or efficient way to mitigate overwhelming amounts of landfill. This is one of the many reasons why the RCRA is important in the midst of climate change.

industry buildings

The RCRA, also known as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, is a federal law that creates the regulations necessary to ensure the safe disposal of waste – such as solid or hazardous waste that could pollute the atmosphere. 

👉 The RCRA also has a standardized code for defining what qualifies as hazardous waste, so that workers across various industries understand the precautions and potential protocols that must be made when disposing of various types of waste.

tunnel of books

How was the RCRA first created? 

The RCRA first became a law back on October 21, 1976 – and acted as a supporting law to the It was an Solid Disposal Act of 1965. The Solid Disposal Act of 1965 aimed to ameliorate the ways in which solid waste was disposed.

The RCRA supported the premise of the Solid Disposal Act of 1965, such as by holding cleanup reforms in the late 90s and early 2000s. Overall, the RCRA has achieved substantial recognition for its success in encouraging the public to become more mindful of how they dispose of waste.  

The RCRA was first recognized in their first cleanup back in January of 1999, where the RCRA referred to the guidelines provided by the EPA to help clean various facilities of hazardous waste. The goal of this first cleanup was to help those facilities understand the importance of proper waste disposal to ensure safety for their employees and to protect the environment. 

The momentum continued in 2001, with new RCRA reforms being established to help even more facilities understand the importance of cleaning and safe waste disposal in conjunction with the EPA. However, the second RCRA cleanup was more monumental than the first – having recruited a partnership with the Technical Outreach Services for Communities, otherwise known as TOSC, where the communities in question were able to have their waste disposal questions from certified experts.

This second RCRA clean-up led the way to establish the RCRA Brownfield pilot program – where the EPA and RCRA began to provide funding for organizations or properties seeking to become sustainable and improve their cleaning and waste disposal tactics. This was not only beneficial to the environment, but helped to stimulate economic prosperity – as the facilities were more kept and able to pique the interest of investors more easily.

👉 The RCRA has continued to evolve over the years with several funding programs and various partnerships to help spread the importance of proper waste disposal and demonstrate viable ways to safely dispose of waste.

power lines against red sunset

Why is the RCRA important?

The RCRA is important as it provides specific regulations dedicated to the disposal of hazardous waste, which no other federal law has established. Some specific guidelines that are unique to the RCRA include guidance on the properties of general hazardous waste, protocols on how to identify hazardous waste, how to manage segregation systems and generators regardless of size, how to transport hazardous waste, and how to dispose of harmful waste or store it if necessary. 

The RCRA also includes useful information on how to manage oil storage tanks below ground, and how to receive approval for complicated processes such as oil and tank management.

While the RCRA recognizes that the disposal of hazardous waste is under the jurisdiction of the entity disposing of the waste themselves, the RCRA also recognizes that it is beneficial to have a guide to help these parties identify these types of hazardous wastes and how to properly recycle or dispose of them. 

💡 Think of the RCRA as the instruction manual you get for building a new piece of furniture. Sure, it’s easier and faster to take a look at the pictures and build the piece of furniture from the visual aid – but the written instructions help to ensure that your piece of furniture is built for long-lasting durability, functionality, and safety.

The same goes for the RCRA helping facilities to properly dispose of waste: while it may seem like a simple task, the guidelines provided by the RCRA can help to make sure that these third parties don’t miss an imperative step in the process of disposing of hazardous waste.

What is the main goal of the RCRA?

The main goal of the RCRA is to build upon the current regulations that pertain to waste disposal – whether the in question waste being disposed of is hazardous or not. 

💡 Think of the RCRA as a preemptive measure to ensure hazardous waste doesn’t harm people or the planet. It’s like being on a road trip and filling up the car with gas before you start a day of driving, even if the tank is already half full.

Why do this? To make sure you don’t end up in a dangerous situation where you’re in the middle of nowhere, and out of fuel. The RCRA does the same thing, by teaching people how to dispose of waste properly in the event the waste is hazardous and can provoke dangerous consequences.   

The main objectives of the RCRA are to protect those who come into contact with hazardous waste, protect the environment from hazardous waste that can potentially emit ozone depleting substances, and to encourage proper recycling of products to prevent excessive waste sitting in landfills.

The RCRA strives for consistency in ensuring the proper disposal of waste, and therefore – they have created a standardized code to prevent mishaps in classifying and discarding waste. A standard code for waste disposal helps to prevent incorrect storage methods, false identification of hazardous waste, and helps to ensure safe handling and transportation. 

In correlation with the EPA, or the regulations set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency, the RCRA constitutes that ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and corrosivity as properties that qualify as hazardous waste. All companies that deal with waste, big or small, are required to comply with the regulations implemented by the RCRA. 

👉 The overarching goal of the RCRA is to encourage safe and unified management and disposal of all kinds of waste to promote the importance of health, safety, and environmental protection. Waste is an inevitable part of any industry in the age of commercialized production, and the RCRA understands this and simultaneously strives to assist with the process of managing waste. 

mountain of Garbage

Has the RCRA been successful in mitigating hazardous waste?

The RCRA has held successful cleanup reforms back in 1999 and 2001, but the RCRA has also been successful in confronting crucial human health concerns through guiding companies on how to store, recycle, and dispose of waste. However, the efforts of the RCRA don’t stop at the current positive effects – as the fight against climate change is more imperative than ever before. 

The RCRA plans to continue their mission in their partnership with the EPA and encourage local governments to promote the importance of proper recycling and waste management. In short, while the RCRA has helped in the past – the most important work to be done is still ahead of them in the midst of global warming.

The RCRA has done this by helping to establish new recycling patterns, help fund facilities to improve their waste management, and has aided in the creation of new policies that strive to mitigate excessive waste as well – such as the Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Establishment Act of 2012. 

Essentially, the RCRA has been successful as a result of seeking to ensure these 8 metals are properly disposed:

  • Arsenic (As)
  • Barium (Ba)
  • Cadmium (Cd)
  • Chromium (Cr)
  • Lead (Pb)
  • Mercury (Hg)
  • Selenium (Se)
  • Silver (Ag)

👉 These 8 RCRA metals are usually found in various products, such as batteries, electronics, or even pesticides – meaning that several companies across multiple industries would benefit to follow the values depicted by the RCRA.

industry at night

Can waste management companies help with the RCRA?

Sometimes, even with the RCRA and their abundant resources to help others dispose of waste – facilities still recruit the help of a waste management company to improve their skills in recycling and discarded waste. Think of it like hiring a tutor for a math class. Even though the teacher is providing all of the materials and information necessary to do well, sometimes a little extra attention doesn’t hurt to ensure success. 

Even with the guidance of the RCRA, it can be overwhelming and time-consuming for companies to understand all of the methods to properly classify and dispose of waste. This is why some facilities refer to a waste management company to help make sure that they achieve all of the goals set forth by the RCRA. 

It can be scary to commit to the protocols of the RCRA without third-party assistance, since if the waste is disposed of improperly – it can lead to not only health and safety concerns of the employees and other humans in the surrounding areas, but become a legal liability. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that waste is properly discarded – and that’s generally much easier to do with the help of a waste management company.

Waste management companies can thoroughly explain the legislations delineated in the RCRA step by step to ensure that the environment as well as the health and safety of employees is well kept. These waste management companies might assist with identifying hazardous waste, explaining the most viable techniques for storage or transportation, and how to dispose of waste safely. Waste management companies can also help with accruing the necessary permits, insurance and licenses necessary to safely, and legally dispose of waste.  

💡 However, it’s important to note that it’s still possible to adhere to the regulations of RCRA without the help of a waste management company – even in your day to day life if you aren’t a part of an industrial company where disposing of hazardous waste is imperative to human health and the environment. 

How can you follow the guidelines provided by the RCRA in your business, and also in your daily life?

team at work in front of laptop

How can you make sure to contribute to the ideals of the RCRA?

The best way to make sure you follow the rules, is to make sure that you know them. Therefore, the best thing any facility seeking to improve their waste management should do is to study the regulations set forth by the RCRA – and then seek to thoroughly implement those guidelines into their own cleaning practices. 

Companies should realize that it is their responsibility to handle hazardous waste, from the moment it is created until the moment it is disposed of – and to follow the regulations of the RCRA throughout the entire process. 

Here are some ways your company can contribute to the ideals illustrated by the RCRA:

  • Engaging your employees on the importance of recycling
  • Invest in new sustainable technologies to help encourage better waste and recycling management
  • Establish safer storage and handling practices for waste within your organization
  • Set up new and improved recycling programs and encourage your collaborators to do the same

💡 However, what is important to note – is that while dealing with hazardous waste can be nerve-wracking, it can be avoided.

Sustainability can be implemented even within your own household, by mitigating the use of products that could potentially create hazardous waste. This can be done by using chemical-free cleaning products, reading the labels to buy the least-toxic product available, using all of the product to avoid using it, or only buying the amount necessary.  In fact, popular cleaning products like Method aren’t only better for the environment, but they usually smell better too. 

Ultimately, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act shows us that we can mitigate the use of hazardous substances and chemicals, but even when that waste is created – there are protocols to be followed to ensure the safety and future health of our planet.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about the RCRA and how it helps to mitigate waste has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. We offer a free demo for you to better understand our platform and all that it has to offer – including assistance with boosting supplier engagement, personalized assistance, and new ways to involve your employees.

Click here to learn more about Greenly and how we can help you reduce your carbon footprint.

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