The Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste law gives state governments flexibility to establish and run independent programs in lieu US EPA. Section 3006 of RCRA encourages states to develop their own hazardous waste regulations, with one big caveat: State rules must be at least as strict as the Federal RCRA program.
When EPA “authorizes” a state’s program, generators, transporters, and other hazardous waste facilities in that state must comply with the state
laws, regulations, and other requirements rather than US EPA’s. Even the EPA itself must enforce State laws and rules in place of its own regulations when acting in an authorized state.
Each time EPA makes the RCRA rules more stringent, states must take action to keep their state rules up to date – or risk losing their authorization.
Do States Have to Adopt Every New Hazardous Waste Rule?
How states respond to a new hazardous waste regulation depends in part on the legal basis
for the new rule.
RCRA was signed into law in 1976. In 1984, Congress amended RCRA by passing the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA). Among other changes, HSWA added rules for land disposal of hazardous waste, called Land Disposal Restrictions or LDRs.
Today when EPA promulgates a new hazardous waste regulation, they do so under the authority of either RCRA or HSWA.
When EPA creates a new rule through HSWA, the rule takes effect nationwide immediately
. States then have one year to incorporate the new rule (or an equivalent rule) into its state program.
When a new rule is passed through RCRA, things get a little more interesting.
New RCRA Hazardous Waste Rules
When EPA creates a new rule through RCRA, the rule is not enforceable in a state with an authorized plan until the state adopts the rule (or an equivalent rule).
If the new rule is more stringent than existing Federal RCRA regulations, the state gets one year
to adopt a consistent and equivalent standard. When legislative action is required—i.e., when state law needs to change to accommodate the new rule—states get two years
to adopt. States sometimes take longer than this to adopt new rules, but the law is clear.
When EPA issues rules that make RCRA less
stringent—for example, adding a new universal waste
—states are not
required to adopt the new rule, but may choose to.
How States Adopt New RCRA Rules
Not every state adopts new RCRA rules in the same way. In fact, two states don’t have to adopt new RCRA rules at all. In Alaska and Iowa, the Federal US EPA administers the RCRA program. Therefore, new RCRA rules go into effect immediately in those states.
Some states—Pennsylvania and New Jersey, for example—adopt new RCRA rules “prospectively.” This means that they automatically
adopt new Federal rules unless they specifically choose not to.
Other states can choose whether to adopt a new, less-stringent RCRA rule or not. Still, these states must adopt any more-stringent rules on the one- or two-year schedule.
The RCRA Generator Improvements Rule
In 2016, EPA finalized the Generator Improvements Rule to make significant updates to the hazardous waste regulations. This includes changes to container labeling, EPA notifications, contingency planning, and more.
State Adoption of the RCRA Generator Improvements Rule
(map updated 06/29/20)
To find out more about what’s in the Generator Improvements Rule, see our most recent update here.
For a more detailed and current look at state adoption of the Generator Improvements Rule, check out EPA's dedicated web page.
Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals Rule
Finalized in February 2019, EPA’s new standards for managing hazardous waste pharmaceuticals (HWP) allow pharmaceutical distributors, health care facilities, and others to follow relaxed standards that streamline management of these wastes.
of the new standards for HWP were promulgated under RCRA. One element of the new rule, the prohibition of discharges into public sewers (i.e., the sewer ban), was promulgated under HSWA and therefore took effect immediately, in all states, on August 21, 2019.
Only a handful of states have adopted the non-HSWA requirements in the HWP Rule.
State Adoption of the RCRA Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals (HWP) Rule
(map updated 06/29/20)
: While the HWP Rule was designed to streamline the management standards for these wastes, EPA makes clear in the Final Rule that the new requirements are more
stringent than previous ones, and therefore must be adopted by every state
[84 FR 5856, February 22, 2019].
See what's in the HWP Final Rule
For more details about state adoption of the Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals Rule, see EPA.gov.
Relief for Solvent-Contaminated Wipes
In 2013, EPA finalized a rule to relax hazardous waste management requirements for wipes and rags contaminated with certain solvents.
Many states have already adopted the new relief. Rhode Island partially adopted the rule, excluding reusable wipes only
from the definition of solid waste (DSW).
State Adoption of Reliefs for Solvent-Contaminated Wipes
(map updated 06/29/20)
More details about state adoption of the exclusion for solvent-contaminated wipes is available on EPA's dedicated web page.
Lion Members: State Summaries
Lion Members can login to the Lion Member Area anytime to see summaries of each state’s unique hazardous waste regulations. You can also find useful links to state resources.
- Login at Lion.com/Members
- Select the Resources tab
- Scroll down to State Tools and select your state
If you need your Lion.com username or password, you can request it on the login page.
Lion Membership is included with enrollment in most Lion courses. You can start or extend your membership by enrolling in training
Start a new Membership or renew an expired one here: Lion.com/Membership
July RCRA Refresher Webinars
Cross annual RCRA training off your list and keep your expertise up to date! Join a Lion instructor for the RCRA Hazardous Waste Management Refresher Webinar
on July 14 or July 28.
Or train at your own pace with the initial or refresher RCRA online courses.
RCRA Hazardous Waste Management Online Course
RCRA Hazardous Waste Management Refresher Online Course