A boom in free stuff to needy rescue missions stemming from the ban on personal hygiene products at airport security checkpoints has gone bust.
For six months, unopened shampoo bottles, toothpaste, shaving cream, deodorant, bottled water, sports drinks and other sundries confiscated at Salt Lake International Airport were delivered weekly to at least three Salt Lake area homeless shelters, and now those deliveries have stopped.
Steve Trost, executive director of the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake, said his shelter received "one, usually two and sometimes four" 55-gallon drums of the items each week.
"They came in very handy, and we got used to being able to help out people in a way we really can afford to," Trost said Wednesday. The mission is nondenominational and receives no state or federal funding. "Without a word, they just stopped a couple weeks ago."
Several of the nation's 450 airports had adopted the same share-the-take routine, Transportation Security Administration public affairs officer Nico Melendez said Wednesday.
"We put a stop to it because it's a simple liability issue," Melendez said. "We had been approached by several rescue services groups, and we were happy to oblige. But after further review, we just can't know for sure exactly what we're turning over to them."
Trost said the charities were willing to take that risk: "We'd be glad to make a 'hold harmless' agreement or draft whatever clause or document they need."
Three days a week, men show up at the mission to shower, shave and clean up for work or job interviews. The mission also runs a women and children facility.
"The timing of this is just tragic," Trost said of the TSA's decision. "Most of all, it's a waste issue."
He noted that the holidays aren't just a Christmas rush for shoppers cold weather creates a run on homeless service agencies.
Melendez said making garbage of unopened items instead of passing them on to the needy is a necessary step because airports simply can't track everything turned in at checkpoints, and some passengers have been voicing concern that items they thought were heading to the landfills were instead going to the needy. The partially used and opened items have been thrown away, and now the unopened ones also are garbage.
The ban on liquids and gels in carry-on luggage was imposed after British authorities on Aug. 10, 2006, announced the arrest of 24 people in an alleged plot to blow up U.S.-bound planes.
In addition to the items sent to the rescue missions, the items seemed to also be falling into the wrong hands. At least a dozen people have reported seeing items confiscated from them at an airport checkpoint showing up later for sale online at eBay.Melendez said the policy change on the disposal of the items, which he said was implemented "pretty much without comment" elsewhere in the nation, will likely not come under further review.