This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Two years ago at a sustainability summit, Deseret Industries recycling chief Eric Anderson touted his company's success responsibly disposing of electronic waste.
About 8 million pounds were recycled in 2012, Anderson said, making the LDS Church-owned secondhand store the state's largest handler of obsolete consumer electronics.
But the audience at Weber State University didn't hear the whole story.
Thousands of worthless cathode-ray tube televisions, or CRTs, were piling up at several locations around Utah operated by Stone Castle Recycling, the firm handling DI's donated electronics. At the time, Clearfield-based Stone Castle's days were numbered and its CEO, Anthony Stoddard, was under investigation for mishandling old televisions.
Stone Castle folded last year after the market vanished for leaded CRT glass, which is considered hazardous waste, leaving behind toxic piles of e-waste.
Stoddard abandoned 3.5 million pounds of broken glass in a Clearfield warehouse owned by Andy Renfro, who says it will cost $500,000 to properly dispose of the waste.
The would-be recycling contractor also abandoned glass and electronics in a Cedar City warehouse and mountains of televisions at outdoor lots in Parowan and Clearfield.
While federal authorities cleaned up the Parowan site, which caught fire and burned in March 2014, the other property owners are on their own.
"There is no simple answer," said Scott Anderson, director of the Utah Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste, which investigated Stone Castle. Stoddard was not required to post bonds and he has no financial resources to take care of his stockpiles. Neither does the state.
"I don't have a pot of emergency-response money," Anderson said. "That's not how I'm budgeted."
Some Utah school districts also sent old TVs to Stone Castle.
Critics say The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should own a piece of Stoddard's messes since its 43-store chain engaged Stone Castle to pick up old televisions and other electronics that had been donated at DI stores.
"The LDS Church failed to conduct proper due diligence when they first engaged Stone Castle Recycling," said Basel Action Network Executive Director Jim Puckett. "There were plenty of warnings which they chose to ignore.
"For an institution as large as the church and one with a moral mission, the blind eye is rather shocking," Puckett added. "Improperly managed e-waste causes real harm to children, families, workers and the environment. One would think the church would care about that."
But LDS officials say they had been led to believe that Stone Castle was an "industry leader."
"Part of the arrangement was that Stone Castle guaranteed the material would be recycled properly," church officials said in a statement.
DI did require the recycler to submit to regular certification.
"While such certification was not mandated by state law, Stone Castle passed numerous third-party operational audits," the church statement continued. "We followed up on the process, but over time, Stone Castle stopped responding to periodic questions.
"Upon learning the CRTs which passed through our stores were not recycled appropriately, and our questions into that practice remained unanswered, we terminated our recycling agreement November 2013," the statement said.
LDS leaders declined to release the audits.
Utah has far more reputable recyclers than Stoddard, according to Puckett, and they have the good sense to charge the public to take televisions while Stone Castle picked up electronic waste for free.
"That's a huge red flag because it costs a lot of money to recycle televisions," he said. "Who was paying for the proper management? Nobody. Eric Anderson fully knew that when he came on board because he is from the recycling industry."
Anderson previously worked for Metech Recycling, whose practices BAN considers the gold standard in e-waste recycling. Anderson referred questions to the LDS Church's public affairs office, which declined to make an official available for an interview.
Puckett confronted Deseret Industries officials last year about their past partnership with Stone Castle.
Stone Castle picked up DI televisions for free until July 2013, when Stoddard insisted DI start paying him going forward and retroactively, according to state inspection reports.
By then, lawsuits were piling up against Stoddard from unpaid landlords and customers, just as televisions piled up outside at Stone Castle sites in defiance of industry standards and common sense.
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality issued a notice of violation in late October 2013. Within days, DI stopped doing business with Stoddard.
But Renfro and Puckett believe the state and the secondhand store chain acted too late and are partly responsible for the tons of glass making Renfro's 40,000-square-foot warehouse unusable, costing him $60,000 a year in lost rent.
"I'm sitting on it until we have to get litigious. I hate to do that, but I don't see it going in any other direction," Renfro said. "We would go after the suppliers. Hopefully the state would come to the table. Deseret Industries and school districts come to the table. And we would all share in the cost."
Deseret Industries now works with different recyclers: Metech; Electronics Recycling Solutions (ERS); IMS Electronics; and Electronic Recyclers International.
Donors can still drop off old TVs for free at DI stores, which sell then for $5. Or customers can pay $6 for a dated TV with a built-in VCR deck.
Anderson's audience at the Weber State summit pressed him on why Deseret Industries takes TVs for free when most recyclers and thrift stores charge a fee. Today, Salt Lake City's Goodwill and Salvation Army stores won't even accept them.
Anderson explained donations are the foundation of DI's business model, and store managers didn't want to do anything to discourage donors.
"We don't turn away anything that comes to our dock even hazardous material," he said in his presentation, which is posted on YouTube. "If we charged, our donations would drop. … People don't want to go to multiple places to drop off their items."
Anderson said donations increase by 3.5 percent a year and DI diverted from landfills up to 60 million pounds of stuff, including old electronics.
"If they are broken and not working, we have taken upon ourselves to deal with it," Anderson said. "We recycle those things that can't be reused or resold as a usable product."