Cue “The Twilight Zone” theme: “Doo-doo doo-doo, Doo-doo doo-doo, Doo-doo doo-doo…”
Picture an airport security checkpoint line. You’re running late. You’re thirsty, but there’s no time to go get a drink. You stand in line, impatiently checking your watch. Then you notice the man in front of you has a bottle of water, as does the woman in front of him. And the next person and the next . . . all the way to the front of the line. Each person is trying to take a bottle through the checkpoint.
Oh, no! you think. Is this a nightmare? The line is crawling. Your plane is boarding. And then something happens. You’ve just entered – the Beverage Disposal Zone.”
For nervous travelers who believe that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, that scenario may not be so far-fetched. But the Murphy’s Law faithful can rest easy when flying from Pittsburgh International Airport thanks to new Beverage Disposal Stations.
The stations allow passengers to dump their unfinished drinks prior to the screening process and then keep or recycle their bottle or cup. There are three stations at the Main Security Checkpoint and another at the Alternate Checkpoint.
The concept is simple: Travelers dump their liquids into what appears to be a simple basin. The liquid then flows down a tube and into an eight-gallon container. When full, airport staff disconnect the tank, replace it with another, and dispose of the liquids down a safe drain.
That’s a lot better than trying to lift a liquid-laden garbage bag out of a can. The tanks eliminate the risk of a bag breaking open and spilling its contents, which would create a safety issue.
The new option already has proven to be popular and effective with travelers, many of whom now carry reusable bottles. How do we know? In just the two weeks since they were installed, the stations have collected about 345 gallons of liquids.
That’s an average of 24.5 gallons of liquids per day or, looking at it a different way, about 196 16-ounce bottles of water. Now imagine if 196 passengers carried their bottles all the way to the security machines and the delays in screening that would occur. If it took just 30 seconds longer to screen each of those 196 thirsty passengers, that’s 98 minutes added to the screening process – more than an hour and a half.
And on Nov. 23, when 36.5 gallons were collected – the “wettest” day so far – it would have meant nearly two-and-a-half hours of extra wait time.
Similar stations can be found in airports across the country, including Portland, Seattle, Atlanta and Chicago O’Hare and Midway.
Enhancing the customer experience is certainly a goal of the new station in Pittsburgh, but there are others.
“Actually, there were three goals,” said Jacqui Yeck, PIT’s environmental programs administrator. “We wanted to improve our recycling diversion rates, make the disposal process safer and positively impact the customer experience.”
Once a bottle with liquid still in it goes into a container along with other recyclables, it contaminates everything in that receptacle, Yeck explained. The new stations not only help recycle that one individual bottle but keep all the other recyclable items in a receptacle from becoming waste.
Passengers don’t have to throw their empty bottles away, however. PIT has quite a few bottle refilling stations in the Airside Terminal, another airport feature devoted to sustainability. And the stations themselves are environmentally friendly, having been made from about 580 recycled milk bottles.
“Not all improvements need to be high-tech,” said Yeck. “But it has huge implications. It saves time for the customer, makes a process easier and safer for employees, and increases our recyclables.”