Liquids Surrendered At Airport Security: Is There An Afterlife?

Ever looked at the mountain of liquids (or, in my case, that luscious, unopened jar of dulce de leche, and countless yogurts) accumulated at airport security and wondered where they end up? Yeah, me too. I’ve always hoped they go to charity and the water bottles recycled, because I have a bit of an idealist streak beneath my jaded exterior.

Our friend Andy Bender over at Forbes helped get to the bottom of this tricky question, and the answers are somewhat surprising. Rather than being palmed by greasy-haired or hungry TSA agents (cause for immediate termination), large airports divvy up the booty by category and dispose of it accordingly, although smaller volume airports may just lump it as trash.

If you lie awake nights pondering the fate of your spendy conditioner or lotion, here’s the breakdown:

  • Liquids are sorted by type (sunscreen, shampoo, alcohol, contact lens solution, etc.) and emptied into hazmat barrels, which are then collected by waste management companies. They’re disposed of according to environmental regulations (Forbes reports that “water-based solutions are sent to a waste water treatment facility or waste energy recovery facility aka trash-to-stream plant.”
  • Alcohol ends up being treated at fuel-blending facilities because it’s flammable.
  • Large quantities of bottles are “chipped” and recycled, but not smaller volumes, which go to the landfill.

For more information on current regulations taking liquids in carry-on, click here. And here’s a tip: by carrying a refillable water bottle, you help reduce the 1.5 million barrels of oil required for U.S. plastic water bottle production each year.


[Photo credit: Flickr user stevendepolo]

Gadling Gear Review: Bamboo Bottle Company Water Bottle

I’m always losing water bottles. I’m grateful that they’re swag at so many events, because I’m continually leaving them behind somewhere — on airplanes, in hotel rooms, in the back seat of the rental car. Carrying a water bottle is The Right Thing to Do, not just because throwing away plastic bottle after plastic water bottle is bad. It’s the right thing to do because you’re on the move, man, you need to stay hydrated, and if you have a water bottle, you’ll do a better job of that. So, yeah, a water bottle, you should have one.

I’m partial to stainless screw top water bottles, they fit in the site pockets on my day pack and if I’ve remembered to grab a carabiner, they clip in to place. I know lots of folks who like the non-BPA wide mouth plastic bottles too, they’re easy to deal with and you can keep more than water in them — I’ve used them to stow the cables for all my electronic stuff, for example.

Both of those options are lightweight, good for when you have to haul your stuff around, which I do, often. I mention this right away because the bottle I got from the Bamboo Water Bottle Company is heavy. It looks cool. It’s well designed. It’s made out of snappy materials. It’s heavy. And that’s before there’s water in it.

The bottle pretty, it’s really pretty. It’s got a blond bamboo sleeve that protects the glass bottle inside from breaking. The sleeve also provides some insulation. The lid has a built in straw so it’s easy to drink from while you’re driving or riding your bike. There’s a version with a flip top — it snaps shut so your drink won’t spill when you knock it over. The bottle comes apart so you can wash it; you can put everything but the bamboo sleeve in the dishwasher.

Here’s the truth: I’m probably not going to use it much for travel. When the weather improves around here, it will be great for drinking ice tea out of while I swing in the hammock in the backyard. If I’m packing a picnic, I can see filling it with gin and tonic for one, or some other summer cocktail. It’s a nice bottle for leaving on your desk at work, a good water bottle really does go a long way towards helping you ease up on the office coffee.

But given my tendencies to leave a trail of water bottles across the planet? There’s no easy way for me to clip it to my bag. And the weight alone is enough to make me reconsider packing it. I like this thing, it’s an attractive piece of gear. I’m just not convinced it’s something I need for travel.

Grand Canyon National Park to ban plastic water bottles

Plastic water bottles are about to become an endangered species at Grand Canyon National Park. The Park Service has announced that the sale of bottled water in vending machines, shops, and hotels inside the park will be banned early next year, in an effort to cut waste and protect the environment there. But first, park officials must complete an extensive survey of the availability of other water sources and the impact the ban could have on the safety and health of visitors.

The Grand Canyon was first set to implement the ban last year, but Jon Jarvis, the Director of the National Park Service, put a halt to that plan. At the time, Jarvis said that the NPS was working on creating a policy for potential adoption by the entire park system, but his announcement led some to speculate that the Coca Cola Company was exercising its considerable influence. The soft drink maker is a major contributor to the parks, but also sells a lot of bottled water as well.

Undaunted by the change in direction, officials at the Grand Canyon continued to move ahead with their own plans. By strategically placing water bottle refill stations throughout the park, and actively encouraging visitors to bring their own reusable bottles, they hoped to cut back on the use of disposable bottles within the Canyon. As a result of these efforts, park officials feel that they are prepared for the ban to go in effect, although they admit that comprehensive studies have not been done yet to determine the impact of the changes.

The Park Services announcement opens the door for other parks to ban plastic bottles as well, although they will have to undergo a rigorous self-assessment before they do so. Some of the things that will need to be considered include the safety of visitors, ease of access to water, and existing contracts with onsite vendors for selling bottled water.

While it may still be a few years off, we’re looking at the potential for a ban of plastic bottles in all of the national parks down the line. In the long run, that is a very good thing for the environments in those parks, but in the short term, a lot of work will need to be done to prep the parks and educate visitors about bringing their own bottles.

Ultimate recyling project: Building a soda bottle classroom

What happens when Peace Corps volunteers, the non-profit organization, Hug it Forward and a bevvy of school children and teachers in Guatemala recycle plastic bottles and trash? A school classroom.

The collected bottles were stuffed with trash and used to form the walls for a classroom addition at a school in Granados, a small mountain town in the Baja Verapaz region of the country. Amazing.

This video shows how the project was done. The music is a fitting addition to a project that brought the widest smiles to dozens of faces.

Imagine what might happen if similar projects happened on a massive scale world wide. There are a lot of plastic bottles on the planet.

For another version of a building project that fits into travel and activism, check out this gallery on house building with teens, college students and adults in Mexico through Amor Ministries, another non-profit that welcomes volunteers.