Campaigners have called on Devon County Council to aim to completely eliminate the amount of waste sent to landfill, instead of extending or opening sites to process rubbish.
Environmentalists insist the prospect of being able to reuse or recycle all waste is not "off the wall", if the council adopts the "right attitude".
They were speaking at a meeting of the development management committee, which invited interested parties to give presentations about four of eight locations which may go forward to be considered as part of a consultation for where future landfill could be located.
The sites discussed yesterday were: Hill Barton and Greendale Barton, both in East Devon; Heathfield, near Newton Abbot; and an area of South Devon earmarked for a possible site search.
Residents raised concerns about roads and traffic near the proposed locations, as well as dust and smell.
All the sites except the South Devon search area already have facilities which deal with waste, and the residents who live nearby feel they have "done their bit".
But Peter Brown, of the Newton and Noss Environmental Group, said no new sites and none of the extensions would be necessary if better use was made of existing facilities and more was done to encourage residents and businesses to recycle. He claimed nearly 90% of waste currently sent to landfill is actually recyclable, and urged the council to look to new technologies and a fresh approach, treating waste as a "sellable commodity".
Mr Brown said: "Even if you don't achieve a zero landfill rate, the mentality which is driving you in that direction will mean you achieve very much more than if you think 'gosh, what are we going to do with all this waste?' It's the attitude of mind which drives you in the right direction."
Tony Goldsworthy of Evo Ivy, a former employee of waste processor Viridor, told members waste facilities which already exist or are in the pipeline have a surplus capacity of 160,000 tonnes per annum, which could be increased if businesses and households were encouraged to recycle more.
Devon already has one of the highest recycling rates in the country, at 55% last year, but Mr Goldsworthy believes more can be done to make the process easier and educate people. And he warned: "If you plan for too much landfill, you can become a depository for other authorities who would be more than happy to dump their waste over the border."
Rob Harris, of Kingsteignton Residents Environmental Awareness Group (KREAG), said the village was "surrounded by rubbish", both from the Heathfield landfill site and other locations where voids caused by mineral extraction have been filled. He said residents had focused on the "glimmer of hope" that landfill activities would stop at Heathfield in 2018, and were now "frustrated" at proposals that it could continue for another 20 years.
And Alan Pearce, chairman of Farringdon Parish Council, said residents in the East Devon community did not want more waste on their doorstep at Hill Barton, which is close to the Greendale Barton proposal. He said they had been campaigning for two years about the smell, and were "suspicious" of pledges that new developments would not create the same problems.
Committee chairman James McInnes said the consultation had provided "lots of food for thought", and emphasised that the council was open to ideas.
The issue is expected to go out to consultation in the middle of next year.
The other site options, which are Roundswell near Barnstaple, Broadpath landfill site in Uffculme, Deep Moor landfill site near Great Torrington, and an area to the east of Tiverton, will be considered at a separate meeting arranged for October 24 at 10am.