United States
Environmental Protection
August 1977
Words Into Deeds
Implementing the Resource
Conservation and Recovery
Act of 1976

Enactment of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in
October 1976 marked the first major commitment by the United
States to bring the health-related aspects of solid wastes under
While there are no exact measurements of the country's wastes, it
is estimated that the United States produces about 145 million
tons of municipal trash and garbage each year, about 260 million
tons of industrial wastes, of which 30 million tons can be classi-
fied as hazardous, and about five million tons of sewage sludge.

These are the critical solid waste problems in terms of resource
wastage and public health and environmental damage, even though,
in terms of volume, they are dwarfed by mining wastes, 'of which
the Nation produces 1.7 billion tons per year, and agricultural
wastes, of which 2.3 billion tons per year are produced.  Trends
paint toward continued growth in solid waste generation as con-
sumption, production, and population increase.

 The 30 million tons of hazardous wastes contain toxic chemicals,
pesticides, acids, caustics, flammables, and explosives.  The
tonnage is expected to increase by 30 percent in the next decade--
in large part because other environmental laws have curtailed
emissions into the air, waterways, and oceans.  Hundreds of cases
of injury to health and environmental damage have been traced to
improperly managed hazardous wastes.

Congress found that the task of safely dealing with land disposal
of virtually any type of waste is also formidable.  A survey con-
ducted in 1975 revealed that there were about 19,000 land disposal
sites accepting municipal wastes. Less than 6,000 of them met
existing State standards.  Most of these sites also received
industrial wastes and there were, in addition, thousands of pri-
vately owned industrial sites that were not included in the

Finding environmentally safe ways either to dispose of sewage
sludge or use it is an increasingly urgent problem for many
cities.  The five million tons generated today is expected to
double by 1985 as wastewater treatment facilities are upgraded.
Unless properly managed, sewage sludge, which often contains
heavy metals, can become a threat to public health and the

In the las't/.few years the Nation has become increasingly aware of
water pollution problems caused by land disposal of wastes.  The
ground waters in /many parts of the country have been affected by
leachate from disposal sites.  Contamination of ground water is
particularly serious because once it occurs, it is practically
impossible to correct, and an aquifer may be ruled out as a
source of drinking water for decades.  The Nation's increasing
dependence on ground water supplies and the growing waste burdens
destined for the land make it clear that land disposal practices


must be improved.  In addition to water quality problems, other
health hazards more traditionally associated with solid waste --
the sanitation problems of uncoilected garbage and open dumps,
the fire hazards, air pollution problems, and gas formation in
landfills  all serve to underscore the fact that solid waste
management is an issue in public health, environment, and re-
source conservation.

Reducing waste generation and increasing the recovery of resources
would lessen both the potential health effects associated with
waste disposal and the adverse environmental effects which accom-
pany the entire cycle of materials production and use.  However,
national historical attitudes, habits, traditions, and laws -Jiave
tended to discourage the reduction of waste or the recovery of
materials and energy from the post-consumer waste stream.  In
1976 about six percent of post-consumer wastes were recovered.

Theoretically, the municipal wastes from larger urban areas
could generate energy equal to 400,000 barrels of oil per day 
nearly a third of the projected initial flow from the Alaska
pipeline.  Recovery of the materials from residential and commer-
cial wastes could provide three percent of the Nation's lead,
five percent of its copper, seven percent of its iron, eight per-
cent of its aluminum, 19 percent of its tin, and 14 percent of
its paper at present levels of technology alone.

Another important aspect of the problem is the increasing costs
of managing wastes -- currently almost $4 billion a year for
municipal solid waste alone.  Collection costs account for around
three-quarters of this, but disposal costs are also very high in
many urban areas because new landfill  sites are increasingly
difficult to establish, and expensive long hauls to distant sites
are common.  It is expected that the upgrading of land disposal
practices to a level that is environmentally acceptable, which is
required under the new law, will add considerably to disposal
costs.  This may constrain the upgrading process, but it will
also provide an added incentive for undertaking resource recovery.

The solid waste problem is complex.  How the Nation deals with
solid waste influences^far-reaching social and economic issues,
and is in turn influenced by them.  These range from the attitudes
of the individual citizen and consumer, through the options selec-
ted in regard to extraction of raw materials and manufacturing
and marketing, to such complex issues as depletion allowances and
international trade policies.

Built on the foundation of the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965,
and the Resource Recovery Act of 1970, the Resource Conservation
and Recovery Act of 1976 is the product of several years of deli-
beration and hearings held by a number of committees of both
Houses of Congress.

The Act calls for new patterns of interaction among all levels of


Government, the assumption of key responsibilities by industry on
several fronts, and for public understanding and participation in
all the major activities it requires.  If the Law is examined in
conjunction with the recently passed Toxic Substances "Control Act
and the Safe Drinking Water Act, it becomes apparent that the
Congress is reflecting a new dimension in public understanding of
what is actually required to improve the environment.  This goes
far beyond attitudes so popular a decade ago when many seemed to
think that placing stoppers on air-polluting stacks and water-
polluting outfall pipes was all that was needed to eliminate
those environmental problems that had been neglected during two
centuries of technologic and economic achievement.

Subtitle C of the new Law brings management of hazardous wastes
under Federal-State regulatory control.  EPA is required to
identify these wastes, set standards for their management from
cradle to grave, and issue guidelines for State programs by April
1978.  The standards go into effect six months after their pro-
mulgation.  States are to establish hazardous waste control pro-
grams that will meet Federal minimum requirements and issue
permits for treatment, storage, and disposal of such wastes.  In
those States which choose not to do so, Federal regulations will
apply.  Civil and criminal penalties are established for non-
compliance.  To assist States in developing and implementing a
hazardous waste program, grants are authorized for each of Fiscal
Years 1978 and 1979.  The most crucial and difficult of the
hazardous waste provisions is development of the statutory defini-
tion of hazardous wastes, since this definition will determine
the scope of the regulatory program and will thus have an influ-
ence on State participation in the program.

Within EPA, plans for developing the hazardous^waste criteria,
regulations, and guidelines have been approved, and working groups
have been established.  Dozens of public meetings have already
been held, and drafting of the required documents has begun.
Since, however, additional data need to be developed and evaluated
and a great deal more consultation, deliberation, and public
review will take place, publication of formal proposals in the
Federal Register is still some time away.

To bring other wastes under control, a less direct but neverthe-
less compelling mechanism is to be used.  The Law increases
financial and technical assistance to State, regional, and local
agencies for the development of comprehensive programs of environ-
mentally sound disposal, resource recovery, and resource conserva-
tion under Subtitle D.  To facilitate regional planning, EPA is
required, within six months of enactment of the Law, to issue
guidelines for identifying regional areas with common solid waste
problems.  Using these guidelines, State and local governments are
then to identify regions and the State and local agencies respon-
sible for developing and implementing the State plan.  EPA guide-
lines for such State plans are to be issued by April 1978.
For a State to be eligible for grants under Subtitle D, its solid


waste plan must meet minimum criteria.  Among them is inclusion of
a requirement that all solid waste be utilized for resource re-
covery, disposed of in a sanitary landfill, or disposed of in some
other environmentally sound manner.  The plan must also provide
for the closing or upgrading of all existing open dumps.

Criteria for identifying open dumps and for identifying sanitary
landfills are to be published by EPA no later than October 1977,
and a national inventory of all open dumps is to be published
within the 12 months that follow.  The Act requires that all open
dumps throughout the country be closed or upgraded by 1983, and
forbids the creation of new dumps.  Special grant assistance to
help meet these new requirements for land disposal facilities is
authorized for rural communities.

Grants to a limited number of "special communities" are also
authorized.  These are to be communities of less than 25,000
population, most of whose solid waste comes from outside their
boundaries, and  causes  serious  environmental  problems.

The implementation of these Subtitle D provisions related to State
and local planning are at various stages.  The guidelines for
identification of regions were published in the Federal Register
on May 16, 1977, and EPA is consulting with the States on their
implementation of those guidelines.  The guidelines for State
plans are in the early drafting stage.

A preliminary version has been drafted of the criteria for deter-
mining which land disposal  sites are sanitary landfills and which
are open dumps.  EPA has distributed copies to all the State
solid waste agencies, organizations representing local govern-
ments, public interest, environmental and health groups, represen-
tatives of industry, and some 100 technical experts.   Through
their review comments and through public meetings, EPA will be
exposed to the facts and opinions that should be considered in
reaching decisions on this issue.

In preparation for the open dump inventory, which will be keyed
to the land disposal criteria, EPA is working with the Census
Bureau on a questionnaire and consulting with the States.  Current
plans call for States to conduct the inventory and notify EPA of
all open dumps; the consolidated list will then be published in
the Federal Register.

Draft regulations on the grants to be made under RCRA have been
prepared and distributed to the States and other interested
groups.  A public meeting to discuss the draft was held in
Washington on June 30.

The authorization in RCRA for grants to States in Fiscal 1978 for
hazardous waste regulation is $25 million; for the various grants
to States and localities for developing and implementing State
solid waste plans under Subtitle D, the authorizations amount to


 $97.5 million.   Actual  appropriations will  be much less,  with the
 current budget  request for grants to States totalling $.12 million
 for FY 1978.

 The Act also  provides for technical assistance teams, called
 "Resource Recovery and Conservation Panels," which will  be made
 available to  State and local governments on request.   The teams,
 which can include experts from State and local governments, pro-
 fessional associations, and industry as well as Federal  personnel,
 will be prepared to assist in upgrading collection, disposal and
 hazardous waste management, as well as in developing  resource
 recovery and  resource conservation systems.  EPA is now develop-
 ing plans for this program, which will be initiated in Fiscal 1978.

 Section 1008  of the Law requires EPA to develop suggested guide-
 lines on solid  waste management practices,  with emphasis  on
 methods for protecting public health and environmental quality.
 The Agency has  begun drafting guidelines under this provision on
 land disposal of municipal solid waste and on land disposal of
 sewage sludge.

 RCRA includes wide authority for research, demonstrations, and
. studies in support of the objectives of the Act.  One of the most
 important of these is a large-scale two-year study of resource
 conservation policies to be undertaken by a Cabinet-level
 committee chaired by the EPA Administrator.  The Resource Conser-
 vation Committee will examine the effects of current public
 policies on resource use and the consequences for the environment
 and society,  and the potential effects of proposed measures,
 particularly the imposition of disposal charges on products.  The
 findings and recommendations are to be reported periodically to
 the President and the Congress.  The first report of the Committee
 describing the plan of study  was submitted June 10.

 Unlike some of the environmental acts, RCRA was not developed
 under the assumption that science can magically produce a quick
 high-technology solution to any problem or that the Federal
 Government alone can work out the means of applying the solution.
 Moreover, even though it encourages serious and far-ranging
 changes in the way the Nation deals with solid waste, the level
 of economic stimulus that it authorizes is modest, and appro-
 priated funds are likely to be considerably less.

 In view of the nature and complexity of the issues the Act
 addresses, the voluntary changes in institutional and personal
 habits and attitudes it is intended to stimulate, and the diffi-
 cult direct and indirect regulatory actions it prescribes, its
 successful implementation depends on a high level of public under-
 standing and  participation.

 The Act contains an unusually complete array of provisions for
 public information and participation.  In Section 8003, the
 Administrator of EPA is required to develop information on nine


key elements which are crucial to the Act's purposes, rapidly
disseminate this information, and implement educational programs
to promote citizen understanding.

Section 7004(b) calls for public participation in virtually every-
thing that is mandated by the Act and requires EPA, in coopera-
tion with the States, to develop minimum guidelines for public
participation in the Federal and State programs.

These guidelines have been drafted and a public meeting was held
on July 1 in Washington to discuss them.  The draft guidelines
require public participation in the decision-making process
through various types of meetings, through advisory and review
groups, and through educational programs that would enable the
public to become aware of the significance of the technical
information upon which much of the decision-making hinges.

Public participation is already a vital part of the process.  EPA
is holding public meetings, hearings, and workshops throughout the
country, scheduled in accordance with the unfolding of the Act's
key provisions.  By the end of 1977, over 120 meetings will have
been held to obtain public input regarding one or more aspects of
RCRA implementation.  Particularly with regard to the issues in
hazardous waste control and land disposal methods, the represen-
tation of the health fields should be strong.

In RCRA and other recent legislation the Congress is reflecting a
new dimension in public understanding of what is required to
improve the environment.  This was also reflected in the
President's 1977 environmental message, which encompassed not only
traditional environmental concerns but also occupational safety
and health and the environmental hazards to the urban poor.

This wider awareness on the part of the public makes it clear that
solid waste, which has been seen too often in the past as a prob-
lem to be resolved by the Public Works Director alone, is instead
a matter of deep concern for environmentalists, public health
specialists, economists, and for the public at large.  This
realization parallels that which was occurring in air pollution
20 years ago.  At the First National Conference on Air Pollution
in 1958, the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service,
Leroy Burney, described the dawning realization of the complexity
of the problem before them.  He ended his address with this state-
ment that is pertinent to the challenges the Nation faces in solid
waste management today:

          "The problems that come as by-products of our
          almost unbelievable material progress demand
          everybody's skills and knowledge.  More than
          that, they demand genuine cooperation.  We can
          no longer ask, who's going to be in charge?
          Or who's going to get the credit?  Wp1 must ask:
          How can we most effectively work together?"