Recycling mini-shampoos patriotically

For Weekly SurgeJune 25, 2012 

I've spent plenty of time in airport security during my summer travels. While I am usually on the hunt for recycling bins in new places, I did notice another type of collection bin that was most distinct and patriotic. While I was traveling out of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, I noticed boxes were set up by the airport security checkpoint for the United Service Organization (USO). The USO was collecting travel-sized toiletries from airline passengers to donate to our troops, reminding them of the comforts of home.

It made me think, how many mini-bottles of shampoos and mini-bars of soaps do I have stashed under my cabinet from hotel visits? Do I really use these? Nope. I always grabbed them upon checkout because I did technically pay for them. My later thought is that, I will save these for the hundreds of guests that will visit my house in the sticks. Well, I can accurately say that we've only had six guests stay with us over the course of two years and one of them actually used one of my mini-shampoos. My inventory has not been depleted and I wish I could have donated them to this worthy cause.

Anyway, back to the original story. So this donation program at McCarran has collection bins near the airport's security checkpoints and the donations go to the USO Center at Las Vegas, which provides troops with the comforts of home as they pass through the airport. The USO, founded in 1941 in response to a request by President Roosevelt, is a private, nonprofit organization that provides services to members of the U.S. military. Services include entertainment, communications with family, personal supplies and recreation activities, all in hopes of lifting the spirits of the men and women that serve. There are more than 44,000 volunteers in the USO and there are 160 USO centers worldwide. The USO is not part of the U.S. government, but Congress, the Department of Defense and the White House recognize it.

Donations are only limited to new and unused items, of course, but also include items rejected at the checkpoints by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) agents. This is so much better than throwing things away in the trash.

Thousands of pounds of items are “voluntary surrendered” by passengers every day, although passengers will claim their items are confiscated. However, through further research, I did find that the TSA doesn’t have the resources or storage for handling items, so they are released to the states. The states are usually the ones that sell the items through government warehouses and auctions, such as eBay. I suppose you could always buy your prohibited items back.

The most common items surrendered to TSA include snow globes, corkscrews, and pocketknives. The money raised from selling the items goes back to the states. For example, according to an article in USA Today, Pennsylvania has raised $700,000 from selling these items since 2004. If you are interested to find out more, you can check out www.blog.tsa.gov or follow them on Twitter @TSA. If you are interested in purchasing state property from South Carolina, visit www.gs.sc.gov and click on Surplus Property. Some items do bypass the auctions and sales and go to local organizations, including scissors to schools and toiletries to homeless shelters.

The best thing airline passengers can do to avoid losing their stuff for good is to be prepared when traveling and abide by the regulations of TSA. There is no gray area with TSA when it comes to “the list” of prohibited items. You can place most of your items with your regular checked baggage; just don’t carry it onboard with you through security. TSA offers the 3-1-1 rule, which is so simple to remember. Liquids must be less than three ounces, one quart-size bag and one bag per passenger. A money-saving trick I have learned so I don’t lose a bottle of water is to bring an empty refillable bottle. Then find the water fountain on the other side of security. You will also save money in avoiding buying a $4 bottle of Deerpark. Keep it simple and you will probably be safer and faster through security, although I can’t say the same for the people in front of you.

Jennifer Sellers is the sustainability coordinator at Coastal Carolina University and offers her eco-views at her blog, mygreenglasses.com. Contact her at jen@mygreenglasses.com.

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