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USPS Develops Interim Return Procedures
Postal Pallets: U.S. Postal Service issues interim procedures for returning stray postal pallets.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 6/1/2007
With millions of postal pallets in circulation, it should come as no surprise that almost every pallet company comes in contact with plastic postal pallets from time to time. As the replacement costs escalate and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) begins to look for ways to cut mail costs, pallets have suddenly sprung to the forefront.
The USPS spent more than $77 million on pallets from 2004 through 2006. It recognizes that it is losing a lot of pallets each year and wants to retrieve these stray assets. As the federal government studies the issue to find the best long-term solution, the USPS has established a few interim procedures to help facilitate returns.
James Hardie, manager of mail transport equipment for the USPS, said that the first step is to contact the local post office. If the local branch cannot deal with the problem, companies are directed to contact the mail transport equipment unit at email@example.com
Postal customers, such as major printers, use pallets for bulk mailers. Pallets have become a major issue as palletization has increased throughout the postal system. Leakage has increased, and managing the pool has become more difficult.
Hardie said, “We are reasonably new to this aspect of the business. Our pallet usage has come up drastically over the past few years…We are feeling the pinch of the loss of pallets out of our system.”
The National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (NWPCA) has been in talks with postal officials. While no thorough recovery program has been developed, the USPS is studying the issue. In the interim, pallet companies can contact the USPS to arrange a pickup.
The NWPCA is offering a Web site (http://www.palletcentral.com/USPS/USPS.htm) where companies can report stray postal pallets to the federal headquarters of the USPS as well as the association. The NWPCA will keep records of any notice sent via its system, which could help the pallet company in the event it is targeted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
The NWPCA has characterized its reporting option as a “stop-gap measure.” The association has also provided the USPS with specs for a wood pallet that could be an answer to some of its problems.
With more than 80,000 post offices, do not be surprised if some local offices are not equipped or are unaware how to handle a significant amount of stray pallets. Generally, postal pallets are orange plastic pallets marked with the USPS name. The USPS has begun marking pallets with the following notice, “Warning: Maximum penalty for theft or misuse of postal property $1,000 fine and 3 years imprisonment (18 USC 1707).”
Hardie said, “We never sell serviceable pallets. They are clearly stamped the property of the U.S. postal service.”
When asked if the USPS would compensate pallet companies, Hardie said, “I have problems with paying to get my property back…Other than you and the NWPCA, we have not had anyone else request for compensation to return postal pallets.”
It appears that the USPS is just learning about the various legal issues involved with recycler services and safeguarding stray pallets. The federal courts have established some legal precedent that provide for fair compensation of the costs involved with locating, shipping, storing, sorting and returning lost assets. In the past, this has been applied to recyclers providing return services for pooled pallets.
Hardie was quick to point out that the USPS had not closed the door to compensating recyclers for costs associated with safeguarding and returning stray pallets. He did make it clear that the USPS would examine the legal issues and was not yet “on board with paying a bounty or compensation fee.”
Last year a USPS spokesman told Materials Handling Management that he was even ready to consider a bounty program just to make sure the government gets pallets back.
The government’s biggest concern seems to be that compensating recyclers might cause a black market to develop. Hardie said that he did have a problem paying people or companies that tried to take advantage of the federal government. This is understandable because higher costs make everyone’s postal prices increase.
The USPS seems to want to fix its leakage problem and is willing to consider fair alternatives to work with recyclers. Now we just have to see how this process will shake out.