Landfills in America are filling up at an enormous rate, a mechanical and chemical engineering expert told members and guests of the Salt Lake Kiwanis Club Thursday.

Speaking at the Marriott Hotel, Frank Kreith, an eight-time author and fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for energy and environment, said if the problem isn't solved the nation will have a crisis on its hands.Kreith, who is a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, said, "Landfills are closing. We must deal with this problem. Not only are the landfills closing, but we have a problem in finding spaces for new ones."

The United States throws away 160 million tons of garbage a year. Kreith said this figure means each person in the United States discards 1,300 pounds per person per year.

U.S. residents throw away more than other countries. For example, the United States generated twice as much waste as Switzerland, Kreith said.

He mentioned two syndromes that go along with the topic of finding new landfills. One is the NIMBY or "not in my back yard" syndrome and the other is the NIMTO syndrome. This is "when legislators have to face the fact that a new landfill is needed. They will answer, `Not in my term of office.' "

He said future landfills will be much more costly. Already "here in this area we pay roughly $10 a ton to get rid of your garbage. In the East they have landfills that are more expensive. The cost is between $100 and $150 a ton in towns like New York City and Boston."

Currently, most money used to fund landfills and other waste-reduction plans are primarily funded by the state and local governments, Kreith said. There is a need to inform legislators that there are solutions, but technical solutions are not enough.

Krieth stressed four critical points in waste management:

- First, whatever solution is used to lessen the problem, it needs to be integrated. "You cannot do just one thing, you've got to think through the entire problem from beginning to end." People need to realize this is everyone's problem.

- Secondly, the problem has to be faced head on. Legislators should not escape responsibility. They have to understand the technical problems, opportunities and costs. At the present time many states are shipping their wastes hundreds or thousands of miles because they don't have the facilities.

- Third, a successful waste program must focus on both planning and execution. The program must be flexible, especially on a local level.

- The final point, said Kreith, is that both the public and private sectors must win approval of the public by insisting on first-rate environmental protection.

Kreith said putting these ideas and others into effect is "not going to be cheap, but it's cheaper to look at ahead of time than after.

"We are not yet in a crisis, but we are going to be there very soon. And as the landfills are filling up, unless we can find some other solutions, there could be a crisis in solid waste management."