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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Solid Waste

Laws and Regulations

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was enacted by Congress in 1976 to protect human health and the environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal, conserve energy and natural resources, reduce the amount of waste generated, and ensure that wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner.

What is Subtitle D of RCRA?

RCRA, Subtitle D regulates the management of nonhazardous solid waste. It establishes minimum federal technical standards and guidelines for state solid waste plans in order to promote environmentally sound management of solid waste.

  • RCRA Section 4001 of Subtitle D outlines primary goals of the Act, which are:
    • Promote environmentally sound disposal methods
    • Maximize the reuse of recoverable resources
    • Foster resource conservation
  • Subtitle D Regulates:

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What federal regulations and guidance exist for solid waste disposal facilities?

  • 40 CFR Part 257 - Criteria for Classification of Solid Waste Disposal Facilities and Practices - established regulatory standards to satisfy the minimum national performance criteria for sanitary landfills. These criteria established standards for determining whether solid waste disposal facilities and practices may pose adverse effects on human health and the environment.

    Facilities that fail to meet the criteria are "illegal dumps" for purposes of state solid waste management planning efforts under Subtitle D. The criteria provide the basis for enforcing the prohibition on "open dumps" and may be used by citizens’ suits in Federal District Court.

    Part 257 governs only those solid waste disposal facilities that do not meet the definition of a Municipal Solid Waste Landfill (MSWLF), as defined in Part 258. Such facilities include waste piles, industrial nonhazardous waste landfills, injection wells, surface impoundments, and land application units.

  • 40 CFR 257, Subpart B - Disposal Standards for the Receipt of Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator (CESQG) Wastes at Non-Municipal, Non Hazardous Waste Disposal Units:

    Businesses that produce small amounts of hazardous waste, known as conditionally exempt small quantity generators, need not manage their hazardous waste under the Subtitle C program. This means that CESQG waste can be disposed of in solid waste landfills. Part 257, Subpart B criteria contain standards for nonmunicipal, nonhazardous waste disposal units that receive CESQG hazardous waste. These criteria address location restrictions, requirements for monitoring for ground water contamination, and corrective action provisions to clean up any contamination.

  • 40 CFR Part 258 - Criteria for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills (MSWLFs)

    The 1984 Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments to RCRA Subtitle D lead to the promulgation of regulations in "Part 258", which establish a framework at the federal level for planning and implementing municipal solid waste landfill programs at the state and local levels. "40 CFR Part 258" or "Subtitle D Federal revised criteria" sets minimum standards for protecting human health and the environment, while allowing states to develop more flexible municipal solid waste landfill criteria.

  • Municipal Solid Waste Combusters are regulated by the Federal Clean Air Act.
  • Transfer Stations
    While there is an emerging national discussion on the need for regulating waste transfer stations, no federal requirements currently exist. Some states have taken the lead to develop their own regulations

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What laws and regulations pertain to solid waste management in Indian Country?

Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) addresses solid waste, including those hazardous wastes that are excluded from the Subtitle C regulations (e.g., household hazardous waste), and hazardous waste generated by conditionally exempt small quantity generators (CESQGs).

In 1994 Congress passed the Indian Lands Open Dump Clean Up Act (Public Law 103-399) which required the Indian Health Service (IHS) to do the following:

  • Develop a criteria for ranking solid waste sites with EPA (high, medium, or low risk to human health and the environment)
  • Conduct an inventory of all open dumps in Indian Country
  • Prepare a 10-year plan to close these open dumps

Municipal Solid Waste Landfills (MSWLF)

Owners and operators in Indian Country can request design and operating flexibility that is available to landfill owners and operators in states with EPA-approved MSWLF permitting programs. See EPA’s Site-Specific flexibility Requests for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills in Indian Country draft guidance.

For more information see Regulations and Guidance in Indian Country.

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What enforcement mechanisms exist for solid waste?

RCRA Subtitle D focuses on the states as the primary planning, regulating, implementing, and enforcement entities for the management of nonhazardous solid waste, such as household garbage and nonhazardous industrial solid waste.

Citizens can file federal civil suits under RCRA Section 7002 and in some cases the federal government can file federal civil suits under RCRA Section 7003. See 42 U.S Code 6972a1B for details on RCRA Section 7002 and 42 U.S. Code 6973a for details on RCRA Section 7003.

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. The proper design and operational criteria for municipal solid waste landfills and other solid waste disposal facilities are covered under RCRA Subtitle D. States may impose requirements that are more stringent than the federal requirements.

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What federal regulations exist for composting?

EPA has published a guidance document entitled Yard Trimmings/Food Scraps. EPA has delegated authority to the states for all composting programs. Composting facilities may need approvals/permits from the state before they can begin operating. The requirements for permitting composting facilities may vary among states.

40 CFR Part 503 under the Clean Water Act (CWA) pertains to land application (and biosolids composting), surface disposal, and combustion of biosolids (sewage sludge). Many of the standards promulgated in this rule can be applicable to municipal solid waste compost.

More Information on Composting

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What federal regulations exist for construction and demolition debris (C&D)?

C&D debris is neither classified as Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste nor RCRA municipal solid waste (MSW). Therefore, C&D landfills are not subject to federal design and operational criteria. However, if C&D debris is sent to municipal solid waste landfills (MSWLFs) or landfills which accept conditionally exempt small quantity generator (CESQG) waste, those landfills must still meet federal regulations set forth in RCRA, Subtitle D. (Part 258 for MSWLFs and Part 257, Subpart B for CESQG).

Under Executive Order (E.O.) 13101, Federal Acquisition, Recycling, and Waste Prevention, the Federal Government is required to use recycled products and "environmentally preferable" products and services. Executive Order 13101 affects the C&D waste stream because several construction items are included among these products. For example, Federal Agencies are required to buy carpet and insulation made from recycled materials.

More Information on Construction & Demolition Debris

How is household hazardous waste regulated?

Households often generate solid wastes that could technically be hazardous wastes (e.g., old solvents, paints, pesticides, fertilizer, poisons). However, it would be impossible to regulate every house in the United States that occasionally throw away a can of paint thinner or a bottle of rat poison. Therefore, EPA developed the household waste exemption. Under this exemption, wastes generated by normal household activities (e.g., routine house and yard maintenance) are exempt from the definition of hazardous waste. EPA has expanded the exemption to include household-like areas, such as bunkhouses, ranger stations, crew quarters, campgrounds, picnic grounds, and day-use recreation areas. While household hazardous waste is exempt from Subtitle C, it is regulated under Subtitle D as a solid waste.

More Information on Household Hazardous Waste

How is industrial nonhazardous waste (Industrial D) regulated?

Industrial D is neither RCRA municipal solid waste nor RCRA hazardous waste under federal or state laws. Therefore, it is not subject to federal regulations covering design and operational criteria. It is loosely regulated by RCRA Subtitle D and 40 CFR 257, Subpart A which governs those solid waste disposal facilities that do not meet the definitions of a municipal solid waste landfill.

EPA Headquarters’ Office of Solid Waste and 12 representatives from the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO) Exiting EPA (disclaimer)developed a guidance document, "Guide for Industrial Solid Waste Management," which establishes voluntary criteria to assist facility managers and state and tribal environmental managers to choose the best combination of protective design, monitoring, and operating practices to manage the disposal of industrial waste.

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