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Lost and found: Stib releases yearly round-up of surprising objects left behind

09:17 12/12/2022

Brussels public transport operator Stib has released its yearly round-up of the most surprising items to make their way into its lost-and-found storage.

From a croque-monsieur machine to an inflatable swimming pool, this year’s list had just as many peculiarities as any other.

When people leave something behind on Brussels public transport, it occasionally makes its way into the lost property office at the Botanique metro station, where crate-packed shelves fill a 25m² storage unit.

There, items are sorted and packed away for owners to eventually come collect. The storage unit is open two afternoons each week for this purpose.

In 2019, before the pandemic, 9,780 items were dropped off at the lost and found, of which 2,467 (25%) were returned.

This year (counting up until the end of November), 1,104 items were returned out of 5,680, or about 19%.

In 2020 and 2021, years which each saw more than 5,000 items collected, the return rates were 25% and 21%.

The most common items are what one would expect: bags, wallets, umbrellas and phones.

But among these more ordinarily lost objects were more unusual ones: a leopard suitcase, a fan, a sandwich maker and the occasional stuffed animal.

“It's a pity that we have fewer unusual objects,” said Victoria Haeck, who is responsible for the lost property office and the team that answers telephone questions.

“In the past, we've had wheelchairs, prams, full shopping bags, golf clubs… We also had a case of 'adult toys'. That person came forward to collect his suitcase.

“Each object that arrives is a piece of someone's life. It may sound a bit romantic as I say, but it's true.

“Sometimes, an object that is not necessarily valuable to us may be more valuable to someone else. Often, at the counter, when we announce the good news, people are very happy.

"It's a relief. You can really see it on their faces. When we have the opportunity to tell someone that we have got their item back, it makes our day. It's a beautiful human adventure.”

Care is taken to ensure that people cannot claim critical items like smartphones or keys without providing evidence that they are the rightful owner.

“We have people who try, but we know the tricks,” Haeck explained. “It's often with mobile phones that this happens, really objects that are difficult to identify.”

When it comes to mobile phones, Haeck said, people will sometimes make a claim using a random guess of a common brand. But no phone is turned over without proof, at the very least through that person’s ability to provide the PIN code to unlock it.

“We never return an object if we’re not sure that we’re dealing with the real owner. We have regulars who try to pick up things that don't belong to them, but not customers who are regularly absent-minded. Luckily for them, by the way.”

With repeat offenders when it comes to trying to unlawfully raid the lost-and-found bins for valuables, the police are sometimes involved.

Items that make their way to the lost and found are labelled, sorted by date, and kept for a maximum of three months.

This period is occasionally extended, for example if a foreigner lost their item while on holiday in Brussels and lives abroad so cannot easily collect it.

After three months, items are passed on to charities such as Oxfam or CF2D. Broken items are not kept at all.

The entire operation is run by a team of five people who handle the sorting, calling and collecting. The team does not actively look for lost objects.

Anyone who has lost an object on the Stib network can contact the lost property office either by telephone (070 23 2000) or via the Stib website.

Information about the object (date and time of loss, line and direction, colour, brand, contents or other particularities) can be given on a form to help properly identify it.

If a description matches an item in the inventory, the person will be contacted again and the object will be returned, provided an identity document is presented along with €5 in administration fees.

The office is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 12.00 to 18.00.

Written by Helen Lyons