It was last year when the nation's garbage crisis gained attention as the Islip, N.Y., garbage barge wandered the waters of the Atlantic. While the barge was far removed from Utah, the crisis it represents isn't.

State and local officials must begin to face up to this crisis. The garbage of our cities and towns will always be with us, but the alternatives for disposing of it are becoming more complex. Those alternatives are likely to be a combination of reduce, recycle, burn, and bury.First, the state legislature should appropriate funds to allow the state's Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste to write a detailed plan that will help Utah leaders decide how those alternatives will be best used in coming years. Utah remains one of the few states without such a plant.

Lawmakers should also consider switching control of landfill inspections from local health departments to a state agency with an increased staff of inspectors. This would eliminate the conflicts that can result when counties are in the position of conducting health inspections at county-built landfills.

Utah's local leaders should no longer be satisfied with merely burying trash. New, stricter federal landfill regulations loom on the horizon and seem likely to force landfill operators across the state to either cleanup their operations or close them. No longer, particularly in rural Utah, should the nearest gulch be allowed to serve as the town dump. Sooner or later they can expect to be required to install new-generation landfills with plastic liners and gas collection systems.

Local officials also should carefully look at the life expectancy of landfills. At some point, they may be required to look at alternatives to merely burying trash.

State and federal lawmakers need to begin addressing not just the end product of the state's trash, but ways of reducing it. Lawmakers should carefully consider ways of encouraging residents to produce less trash and trash that is less harmful to the environment.

State officials should also develop policies that encourage recycling. Most of the recycling done in the state is done through private companies and that tact should not be changed. How about an Oregon-style glass bottle bill or an educational program in schools to teach about recycling?

The state must become better prepared for the next generation of waste disposal, particularly mass-burn plants. Questions about the Davis County burn plant, including the safety of its ash and emissions, remain unanswered. The state Bureau of Air Quality should insist on frequent sampling from the plant's stacks. Has America too quickly accepted these plants as the "wave of the future" without adequate testing?

There are no easy solutions to the garbage crisis facing Utah, but planning and action now will make it far less a burden in the future. When the garbage barge set out to sea, there was no time for real solutions. Utah still has that time.