Bob Dalton values the benefits of providing volunteer service to local agencies, but he was shocked by what his group found last weekend while doing cleanup near the Southern Parkway entrance to the Warner Valley area.

A few dozen flat-screen TVs, many of them still bearing their energy use tags and sales floor plastic wrap, lay scattered along a slope below the dirt road leading into the desert east of the St. George Regional Airport.

“It looked like a big dump truck had just backed up and dumped them off,” Dalton said. “We also found three pallets that they had been stacked on. It took us four truckloads hauling them out.”

The area is popular with off-road vehicle enthusiasts and target shooters, as well as horseback riders and adventurers exploring the Spanish Trail and local temple trails history surrounding the old Fort Pearce and the Hurricane Fault.

Kyle Voyles, an outdoor recreation planner with the Bureau of Land Management’s St. George office, said the federal agency regularly organizes cleanups in different locations it oversees, but Warner Valley gets more attention than the others because it “gets loved to death” by the multitude of people who use it.

Dalton, a “Just Serve” specialist on the local Public Affairs Council of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said it’s the second year he has helped organize volunteers to assist the BLM in Warner Valley.

The church-sponsored website serves as a clearing house for assembling volunteer teams in all 50 states for projects requested by humanitarian and governmental agencies, churches and civic groups without direct LDS church affiliation.

Dalton said there are about a dozen coordinators in the Washington County area and about 125 people participated in last weekend’s cleanup. Voyles said there were 77 people listed on the signup sheet, and the Desert RATS roads and trails society also teams with the BLM for outdoor cleanup activities on a regular basis.

“It’s just an amazing opportunity for community service,” Dalton said. “It’s really great to see the good things that are being done.”

But the apparent commercial dump of the televisions raised concerns not only about keeping the desert free of waste, but also about how people deal with electronics disposal.

“Two to three years ago, the recycling of televisions just started to dry out,” said Tim Heyring, one of the owners of Virgin Valley Recycling whose business mission is to get as much reuse from electronics as possible.

“Anything that takes a battery or a cord, with the exception of things that have refrigerant or televisions,” Heyring said. “The goal of this is that nothing leaves the country or it gets used as a natural resource. … (But) everybody has stepped out of that television (recycling) world because it’s just so expensive, or else they’ve gone out of business.”

Stone Castle Recycling serves as an example of the difficulties in the industry – in a 2011 story reported in The Spectrum & Daily News, the company’s St. George plant billed itself as “the boneyard of big-screen TVs.”

But by 2014, the recycling company had abandoned millions of pounds of broken, leaded glass from old television screens in locations from Cedar City to Clearfield, much of it from Deseret Industries recovery, according to media reports at the time. The company’s owners faced numerous debt collection complaints – one resulting in a $16,000 default judgment just this week – as well as criminal conviction in Cedar City on charges of taking vehicles without permission from other people’s property for recycling.

Heyring said his company is taking in about 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of electronics a month, with a peak of about 30,000 pounds. It isn’t a profitable business, and when he made the decision to get rid of his stockpile of recyclable televisions, it cost him $7,000 for each shipment to a recycling facility in Phoenix that has since gone bankrupt, he said.

Best Buy is among a few electronics companies in Utah that will accept televisions for recycling. The Washington City retailer’s website states it will accept old tube TVs smaller than 32 inches and flat panel televisions smaller than 50 inches, but for a $25 fee.

Neil Schwendiman, the district manager for the Washington County Solid Waste District, said he also refers old television recyclers to Wasatch Front area businesses Metech Recycling and TAM Solutions, which will accept them for a fee. But residents who aren’t worried about going green can send their televisions to the county dump, he said.

“Residents can put televisions in the garbage can – they do go in the landfill,” he said.

“Our landfill is lined, and household hazardous waste is not regulated in the State of Utah,” Schwendiman said. “I used to have (televisions) recycled, but nobody wants them anymore.”

Semiannual city cleanup days like the one St. George conducted last week help residents unload general items without a trip to the landfill, but chemicals such as refrigerants must be drained first. Schwendiman said the landfill will have a free-of-charge Household Hazardous Wastes Day next Saturday, April 22, where people can get rid of cleaners and other chemicals, although there will still be a charge for tires.

Voyles said an Allied Waste crew collected a dumpster with the discarded Warner Valley televisions Friday morning, but a new mystery arose from the incident because all but four or five of the flat-screens had disappeared during the week.

“They were pretty well destroyed. … (Whoever dumped them) threw them down a big embankment and they just shattered as they rolled down to the bottom,” he said.

BLM investigators, in discussion with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, collected photographs and serial numbers but hadn’t resolved who might have dumped the devices as of Friday, Voyles said.

Dalton said the volunteer crew also found tires and a full-sized couch that had been abandoned within their work area, a radius of about a half mile from the parking lot near the parkway entrance.

“We saw that a lot of the trash is from shooters. We see a lot of shotgun shells, casings,” he said. “There are a lot of things left that they could clean up and help save the desert.”

Voyles said target shooting is a popular activity allowed on public lands, but it becomes a problem when people take trash out and leave it.

“That creates work for us. … So we try to advocate that if you’re going to go target shooting, just take back whatever you brought out,” he said.

Follow reporter Kevin Jenkins on Twitter, @SpectrumJenkins. Contact him at 435-674-6253.

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