"Landfills full, alternatives few" (front page, Jan. 26) on the potential expansion of landfills in the metro area underscores the need to reduce our reliance on trash cans. A serious effort to reduce the amount of trash we are producing will require bold action from state leadership.

Why not landfills? Burying our trash in the ground presents long-term risks to our groundwater supplies. We are currently spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to clean up old, leaking landfills. The value of materials dumped in landfills is lost — that's tens of millions of dollars buried in the ground forever. Finally, landfills emit methane and other potent greenhouse gases at much higher rates than recycling, composting or waste-to-energy.

We all have a responsibility — individuals, businesses and government — to reduce waste and recycle everything we can. Local governments are leading the way in offering new recycling programs for residents, including robust recycling, yard waste, food scraps and household hazardous waste collection programs.

With support from state bonding funds, Ramsey and Washington counties are expanding their food scraps collection program and will be offering curbside collection to residents beginning in 2022. Also starting in 2022, Hennepin County will require municipalities to ensure that their residents have an opportunity for curbside collection of organics.

Programs like these recover value from materials and minimize the amount of waste that goes in the trash. Many of these initiatives are mandated by state law, so we need state help to build infrastructure and develop markets for recycling, compost and biofuels.

For what can't be reduced, reused or recycled, the state correctly prioritizes waste-to-energy over landfills. The Hennepin Energy Recovery Center in Minneapolis and the Ramsey/Washington Recycling and Energy Center in Newport support waste-to-energy systems in their counties. Our modern waste-to-energy systems not only generate electricity to power and heat our homes and businesses but are better for the environment than landfills.

Despite these facts, there is a serious effort to close waste-to-energy facilities without an alternative plan to deal with the millions of tons of garbage they process.

Partnership is needed at all levels to build systems that provide better alternatives to landfills and transition to zero waste. Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties are seeking state legislative action to re-evaluate our waste management policies to ensure we can achieve zero waste goals. We need to reallocate existing solid waste tax revenue to pay for recycling programs as was originally intended.

Our counties are advocating for expanded measures to hold producers responsible. Minnesota is behind in advancing such measures, which require better design to cut down on excess packaging and improve product durability, as well as ensuring producers share help manage their products' end-of-life.

We should be investing now to keep waste out of landfills to help avoid the high environmental, health and financial costs later. Thanks to strong programs and infrastructure, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties have some of the highest recycling levels in the state and lowest percentages of waste going to landfills. In the next few years, new initiatives in our counties will help recover even more resources from waste.

Want to generate less waste and reduce pollution? Let your elected officials know that you want better options than the trash can. You can also join the thousands of residents who participate in your county's waste prevention, recycling, yard waste, food scrap and household hazard waste collection programs. Visit your county's website to learn more.

Debbie Goettel is a Hennepin County commissioner. Fran Miron is Washington County commissioner. Victoria Reinhardt is a Ramsey County commissioner.