Like other Americans, Utahns like to keep a lot of distance between themselves and their garbage. Every week they put their leftovers and discards on the curb to be hauled away - out of sight, out of mind.

But, as we are becoming all too aware recently, our garbage is coming back to haunt us. America's landfills are filling up, and much of the stuff it's filling up with is not decomposing the way it should. What's worse, nearly 20 percent of it is material that could easily be recycled without even a trip to the neighborhood recycling bin.On average, Salt Lakers dump 2,100 tons of garbage and trash at the Salt Lake County Landfill every day, and nearly 400 tons of it is yard waste - grass clippings, leaves, pruned twigs, weeds. But those 400 tons - some 146,000 tons a year - could easily be converted into nutrient-rich compost instead of taking up valuable landfill space.

This year, the Salt Lake Valley Solid Waste Management Council is encouraging county residents to keep their yard waste at home and is now offering simple guidelines to composting grass and leaves. As the handout explains, compost is a valuable soil conditioner that can be used as potting soil for house-plants or in place of peat moss in the yard; it conserves moisture and reduces weeds; and, if the pile is turned regularly, it produces no odor.

For those residents who can't or don't want to compost in their backyards, the landfill has recently constructed its own giant compost pile.

County residents can now dump their autumn leves, knowing that the leaves will be composted and either used in the landfill's soil regeneration program, or eventually made available for county gardeners to take back home.

Salt Lake residents can have their specially bagged leaves picked up by city garbage crews and hauled off to the landfill compost pile.

More than 30 states now ban or limit the disposal of yard waste. Utah is not yet one of them. For now, at least, municipalities are relying on the volunteer composting efforts of individual citizens.

Bowing to the threat of air pollution, we've all gotten used to the idea that autumn is no longer spiced with the smell of burning leaves. Now it's time for another dose of reality: Leaves, and other yard waste, don't just magically disappear. Garbage is garbage, and we're responsible for it.