What happens to airport lost property?

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 rushed, panicked passengers. So where exactly do all the mobile phones, perfume bottles and sun creams go?

If you have visions of airport staff calling shot gun on certain items of lost property or lugging home suitcases filled with toiletries and electronic devices, you’ll be relieved to know that you’re mistaken. In fact, all items are meticulously recorded, recycled, destroyed, auctioned or – where possible – returned to their owner.

Apart from the obvious liquids and electronic devices, over the years airports have recorded some very unusual items, which are hard to believe that people could forget. According to The Telegraph, staff at London City Airport claim to have recovered £50,000 in cash, a bag of diamonds, a Rolex watch worth £10,000 and a book of blank cheques (each of which were signed). The most bizarre things to have ended up in the lost property bin at Gatwick include wedding dresses, crutches, walking sticks and guitar amplifiers.

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 possessions. 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.

The Telegraph also reported that 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.

So what happens to the alcohol? Confiscated alcoholic beverages are emptied from their bottles and sent to a digestion plant, which creates energy from the waste and the glass is sent to be recycled. Drugs and weapons certainly don’t make their way to the auction room. The police are called to deal with all items of a prohibited and dangerous nature. According to The Telegraph, in 2011/12 Border Force and the UK Border Agency, made 3,588 drug seizures, including 767 for cocaine, 117 for heroin, and 1,600 for cannabis.

At I Love meet and greet, we are proud that our high standard of customer service has meant that we have been able to help our customers by returning forgotten items from their cars. Often our customers realise they may have left an important item in their car and ring us when they are in the terminal. For one absent-minded customer we made three extra trips back to the terminal as he realised he had forgotten his passport, then his toothbrush and finally to put his jacket back in his car. One of the more bizarre customer questions we had recently was not for a forgotten item but a request to keep a chilli plant watered whilst the customer was away!

By Sarah Anglim at 8 Apr 2014

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