Oliver Smith, The Daily Telegraph, May 29, 2013
At Gatwick Airport alone, between 1,000 and 1,800 bins are filled each month with items that have been confiscated, or left behind by passengers. So where do all those backpacks, corkscrews and bottles of suncream go?
If you’ve got visions of rosy-cheeked security guards tanked up on duty free gin, lugging home suitcases filled to the brim with seized toiletries, you’d be sadly mistaken.
All items are meticulously recorded, recycled, destroyed, auctioned or – where possible – returned to their owner.
What does make for interesting reading is a list of the most unusual items recovered by airport staff.
Staff at London City Airport claim to have recovered £50,000 in cash, a bag of diamonds, a Rolex watch worth £10,000, the keys to a Porsche, and a book of blank cheques (each of which was signed). Less valuable, but no less remarkable, items found were an adult toy, a set of false teeth, a glass eye, several wigs, and an artificial skull. The majority of items were returned, said Darren Grover of London City, “but the owner of the false teeth never did come forward”. The most bizarre things to have ended up in the lost property bin at Gatwick include wedding dresses, crutches, walking sticks and guitar amplifiers.
The most frequently lost items include belts (not surprising given the requirement to remove it at security), mobile phones, iPads, umbrellas (presumably ditched in joy at the prospect of escaping to sunnier climes), Kindles, laptops, and cameras (a loss that’s guaranteed to spark the first holiday argument).
So what does happen to these lost goodies? According to Gatwick, about 85 per cent of "high-value" items, like laptops, mobiles and cameras, are returned to their owners, as well as 30 to 40 per cent of lower value items, such as books. But that still leaves countless unclaimed posessions. These items are, by law, stored for a minimum of 90 days, before being donated to or auctioned for charity, alongside items left on aeroplanes. If you’re interested in getting hold of some cut-price kit, head to one of the following auction houses.
Greasbys, a Tooting auction house, sells on luggage from various London airports every other Tuesday, but don’t expect to unearth any hidden gems. “It’s dirty clothing and bags, mainly,” said one employee.
Wellers, which has branches in Chertsey and Guildford, sells on “bags, clothes, and small electronics” from London airports every Tuesday.
Lots can usually be viewed in advance on each of the individual websites.
Not all items lost or confiscated at airports go under the hammer.
At Gatwick, liquid items such as oversized toiletries handed in at security are currently disposed of by Biffa. Plastic water and soft drink bottles are crushed, and the plastic sent for recycling – to be used in the retail, construction or textiles industries, or sometimes in the creation of city landscaping and street furniture.
High value liquids such as wines and perfumes are logged separately and are “subjected to stringent checks”, after which – tragically – they are handed to Biffa. Far from being divvied out among staff, alcohol is emptied from these bottles and sent to a digestion plant, which creates energy from the waste. The glass is sent for recycling. Sharps items such as scissors are collected and disposed of separately.
And drugs and weapons? These certainly don’t find their way to the auction room. The police are called to deal with all items of a prohibited and dangerous nature, such as fixed blade knives, dodgy DVDs and defence sprays. Border Force and the UK Border Agency, handle drugs. In 2011/12, it made 3,588 seizures, including 767 for cocaine, 117 for heroin, and 1,600 for cannabis.
All illegal items are held to be used as evidence, and eventually destroyed.