Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sale of Banned Items Proves Lucrative

(Feb. 7) - It's a little-noticed legacy of post-9/11 airport security procedures: the brisk commerce spawned by the buying, selling and disposal of the 30 million prohibited items surrendered by passengers at checkpoints.

Some of it is hazardous waste, like Chemical Mace, and is disposed of accordingly. A small portion is pure junk and gets discarded. But scissors, cigarette lighters and pocketknives have value. And, this being the USA, a lucrative market has sprung up around the buying and selling of surrendered items.

Nobody has totaled it up, but the business of disposing of or reselling items banned by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration appears to be valued in the millions of dollars a year. After a traveler leaves behind a banned item - a hunting knife, say - it can follow a strange and convoluted journey to a new owner. That journey often involves a pass through state or local government ownership, and a posting on eBay.

State surplus property offices get first crack at the items, but if they're not equipped to handle them or decide to take a pass, giant contractor Science Application International collects and discards them under a five-year, $17 million government contract.

Some states, including Pennsylvania and Kentucky, wouldn't think of taking the items to a landfill, though, because they are reselling them and making tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Even little Boulder City, Nev., cashes in.

"Everything sells," says Kenneth Hess, director of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Supplies and Surplus Operations. In December the agency sold more than $17,000 worth of items it received from the TSA and ships about 5,000 pounds of such items to eBay buyers each month.

TSA, which makes no money from the items left at checkpoints, disposes of most items the same way other federal agencies dispose of property with commercial value: It gives it to state and local governments, who are free to donate or sell it. That's how people like Hess get involved.

States like Pennsylvania sell boxes, boxes and more boxes of scissors, tools and pocketknives. A 39-pound box containing 500 Swiss Army knives sold on eBay in 2004 for $595 to a California buyer - the highest sale of Pennsylvania's state surplus office since it began selling surrendered airport items two years ago.
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