[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"]I[/dropcap]n fiscal year 2009, the U.S. Postal Service spent more than $149 million in manufacturing, shipping, and fulfillment costs for Express Mail® and Priority Mail® packaging supplies. The Postal Service, like FedEx, provides these supplies at no cost to customers and the public.

[poll id="175"]
The packaging is Postal Service property and, therefore, should only be used to send Express and Priority mail packages. However, some customers use the boxes, envelopes, and labels for other purposes and in some cases, customers use the packaging to mail items using the Postal Service’s competitors. This adds additional costs to the Postal Service and violates federal law. The question is balancing the desire to control costs with maintaining the convenience that customers desire.

The Postal Service must ensure the supplies it provides are used appropriately, but what’s the best way to do this? Are the savings worth the logistics and costs of monitoring and the inconvenience for customers? How do competitors monitor the use of packaging supplies?

This topic is hosted by the Office of Audit Field Financial – West team.

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  • anon

    Is it legal (and/or ethical) for a national political candidate to use a free USPS cardboard priority mail flat rate envelope folded in an unsolicited mass marketing appeal for political donations? The sticker address label states the addressee will pay for postage. To me this is not only wasteful it is just wrong and is abuse of the USPS and our tax dollars. This priority mail envelope came folded in a paper envelope with a letter touting the need for fiscal discipline. I would love to hear from the USPS. Thank you.

    Sep 21, 2016
  • anon

    could USPS SAVE MONEY if they reduce the number of box sizes they manufacture? A small example is Regional A1 is 7x7x4.75, Small is 7x7x6: a 1.25 length difference creates an entirely new box to manufacture as well as another pricing structure. Further, if you need 7x7x6, that rules out any Flat Rate Box since they're either too big or too small. Perhaps combine these 3 boxes into 1: a 7x7x7 box. Then, USPS needs to only manufacture 1 box with 3 printings instead of 3 boxes with 3 printings. A better and bigger example are the long boxes. There are ~9 different boxes whose height is less than 4". And If I have something 4.1" high, 0 (zero) of those boxes are useful. Could long boxes be combined? Would less duplication mean less waste? Also, many of the boxes can only ordered online--but in minimum quantity of 10 or even 25. Sometimes I just need 3. This means ordering 10, then driving to a local USPS to leave them 7. Some folks are probably just tossing the excess in the recycle bin or worse, the trash. This might be a waste that could be reduced. Multiples of 5 seems more reasonable. If people need 10, they can just order 2 packs of 5 with 1 additional click. And people might have room to keep an extra 2 boxes instead of trying to store an extra 7 boxes. This probably belongs under "Five Elements of a Postal Solution" blog or something else, but that ended in 2012. I could even help figure out a solution. The more complex it is, the less people will want to use it.

    Aug 30, 2016
  • anon

    That't true it could be used for that. I do love that they provide this service. It can add up if you send carepackages etc to keep buying boxes.

    Aug 24, 2016
  • anon

    Many times when I purchase an item on eBay sellers misuse and waste priority flat rate packaging. Example: Today I received a bottle of conditioner from an eBay seller in a flat rate bubble mailer and inside the envelope the seller used 3 more additional flat rate padded mailers instead of bubble wrap. Is there anything I can do to help this situation. It's a waste of money for the post office and a shame!

    Aug 09, 2016
  • anon

    No, free material convenience is not worth the cost (if they cost more than $0.50 per label) For the past 10 years I've run an eBay store and ship with USPS for about 75%+ of those transactions, this represents around $6,000-$12,000 spent with the post office annually. I used priority USPS flat rate boxes and envelopes for around 50% of USPS transactions because of their convenience and cost savings, but only thru around 2010. Since then rates have approximately doubled, the 100% increase in about 5-6 years has changed my shipping practices. I can purchase padded envelopes for about $0.09 each, and ship using USPS first class at a savings of around 50% over a USPS flat rate envelope. I still use flat rate, but almost never if a package weights below 13oz (16oz now). So....? Do I think the expense of offering free shipping materials is worth the convenience? No, not at all, not if getting a free box is costing 50% more in postage. I cannot answer your question without all the information though; gross figures like $149 million in costs don't translate well to the consumer per package cost. If you told me that the cost to ship a padded flat rate envelope is $0.09 more because the shipping materials are free, I'd say extra cost is well worth it. If you told me it was anything less than $0.50 of the label cost, I'd probably say it was worth it, but I have a feeling the cost is higher and not worth the convenience. I'd like to suggest that USPS consider revamping this policy, and offer higher incentives to purchase our own shipping materials, like deeper priority discounts if we pre-purchase our own flat rate boxes/envelopes. I don't mean prepaid shipping envelopes for full postage cost like whats currently offered. I'm suggesting something like $0.20 padded flat rate envelopes for commercial base & plus users, $0.40 for retail users , labeled accordingly (on both sides, to promote re-purposing of pre-purchased materials at full price priority and even non-priority use) . When these pre-purchased materials are used to ship, they provide a 15%(+/-) discount on current priority flat rate or dim/lb rates the first time (not when re-used). To offset this discount and to reduce costs, raise the cost of priority rates a significant amount, say 25% when using free USPS shipping materials. Reduce the diversion of free materials by lowering quantity maximums to something like 10 total per person, per month, track this using accounts (like a grocery store club card, require an account for free materials at the P.O.) Maybe stop offering free materials online, or if still provided, when free, charge shipping for delivery. Don't stop offering free materials all together though, many people are willing to pay extra for convenience when they only ship a few times a year, but charge significantly more for this (think UPS store, they charge a premium for convenience) If you can reduce end user costs by implementing change in the free material policies, do it, advertise it, explain end user math in posters at the P.O. and it'll be a win) All this hinges on the actual cost per label for using free materials, if we're talking $0.10 a label, the point is moot.

    Jul 25, 2016
  • anon

    If something costs money, charge people what it costs. Don't try to trick people into thinking that mail costs something different than what it actually costs. In other words, charge people for the materials that they use. In the case where it is too low a charge for it to be worthwhile to collect the amount, then perhaps you can consider free. But currently you can get 600 envelopes for free. This is silly. Just charge the $5 for the materials and it will reduce fraud and waste.

    Jul 16, 2016
  • anon

    I mailed a priority box from Brevoort Station 06/15/16 and as of 07/01/16 no one were able to give account for the missing package, one days later I mailed two additional boxes they were delivered as stated yet # one is still missing in action.

    Jul 02, 2016
  • anon

    I mailed a priority mail box with my health and beauty products 06/15/2016 from Brevoort Station destined to Seattle Washington I was given a receipt etc. and as of 06/30/2016 no one can give account for the box that never left N.Y according to the supervisor at Brevoort. The last location according to tracking info. was Brentpage. One day later 06/16/2016 I mailed 2 additional priority boxes they were both delivered on 06/18/16 but the first one is still unaccounted for by staff. Because of the items in 06/15/2016 package I have no doubt that my box was stolen by USPS employee/s.

    Jul 02, 2016
  • anon

    If I want to use 50 cents in extra shipping supplies to secure my package, this could save USPS the cost of $50 insurance if the item gets damaged during shipment. I think using 2 boxes for added protection, or a padded flat rate envelope inside the box is reasonable, as long as its being shipped through USPS priority mail. I also think using recycled boxes or padded flat rate envelopes is better that throwing them in the landfill.

    Apr 23, 2016
  • anon

    Our local UPS store is selling usps flat rate boxes with a statement they'll ship them for that inflated rate. Seems unlawful and unethical to me. Any recourse? As a supporter of the US Postal service this really bugs me. It's ups on barbur blvd in Portland, Oregon.

    Mar 29, 2016
  • anon

    My son and I have a business and depend on the large and medium flat rate boxes, but have been unable to get any the last few weeks either by ordering them or by going to the post office. Will they still be used and when can we get them?

    Jan 16, 2016
  • anon

    Why would the Gilroy,CA post office charge postage due for me shipping a priority package to Gilroy because I inverted a flat rate box? How would this be mis use? I am using a priority box and paying for priority service. If I had used a larger priority box it would have been the same price. The USPS has several boxes that offer services on box sides of the box. For example you have a box that is priority on one side and Exress on the other. There is nothing on the box that states I have to pay flatr rate priority shipping. The inside of the box has printed priority and that is what I paid. Why would I be chargesd postage due $6 for a package mailed from 93635 to Gilroy weighing less than 2 lbs dimensions smaller than 12x12x8 that I paid $7+ for?

    Dec 29, 2015
  • anon

    I guess that USPS is packing boxes (non-priority mail) for customers who bring in their own boxes and items in order to compete with UPS and FedEx. The problem is, particularly during Christmas season, that is creates long lines and penalizes those of us that come prepared with our packages already for postal processing. It also causes the post office to go through vast amounts of tape and packing material, all free of charge to the customer but a burden to the bottom line of the USPS. Can this policy be reviewed for possible changes to reduce the amount of waster of both time and materials? How about a separate window or time frame for those that required the packaging service? How about charging folks that bring in their empty boxes and items and expect the postal clerk to do all the work in order to get then ready for postal processing?

    Dec 01, 2015
  • anon

    The Post Office is not supposed to pack anything for the customer. All preparation of the mail piece is supposed to be done before the transaction begins.

    Apr 28, 2016
  • anon

    I spent half an hour using the USPS search engine to try to find guidelines or regulations on the use of the "free" shipping supplies (boxes and mailers) provided by USPS. I googled for another hour and still could not find a statement with guidelines, penalties or anything else. If it's there, it's very hard to find (I'm still looking). This issue comes up frequently on eBay and there are many sellers using bubble mailers and boxes as internal packing instead of buying packing materials but, without a definitive statement from USPS, it's difficult to have a discussion with the many who justify misuse of materials or who claim that USPS says it's okay to use these as internal packing. Could we get something in writing please that not only 1) clarifies what we can and can't do but which also 2) says something about the impact on USPS of this very widespread practice not only of using these as packing materials, but as household storage containers or garage sale boxes on a large scale and 3) which specifies penalties for misuse.

    Jul 17, 2015
  • anon

    It's been months since I posted this question and we've still received no clear answer from OIG or USPS on the use of "free" supplies and sellers are now showing videos on Youtube on how to use Priority Mail supplies for internal packing so if I state the question more simply, can we get a clear definitive statement on this: Is it permissible to use free Priority Mail supplies (bubble mailers, envelopes, boxes) as INTERNAL packing materials for USPS packages (e.g., 1) a bubble mailer as cushioning inside an outer box or 2) a cut-up box as internal protection within an out bubble mailer)? We have received no guidance from USPS online and conflicting answers from post office clerks. An answer would be appreciated before this gets completely out of hand.

    Oct 26, 2015
  • anon

    I use USPS shipping supplies inside my packages all the time. I use recycled bubble mailers, recycled boxes, recycled tyvek envelopes etc.. Is there something wrong with recycling? Sometimes I use brand new shipping supplies to secure or waterproof certain items. Such as a brand new tyvek envelope sealed around electronics, then packed inside a USPS priority mail box. Or 2 layers of cardboard to make a box stronger. I don't think there is anything wrong with using these supplies inside a USPS package. I'm still paying for their service, and spend thousands per year on shipping and fee's. Is there something wrong with using 2 boxes or bubble mailers to save USPS the hassle of damaging my item and paying insurance? I think the $50 insurance will cost them more that an extra box or a bubble mailer. I also think sending brand new priority supplies inside a brown box is fine, as long as it's sent through USPS. The reason I think it's ok is because USPS sends me their PRIORITY shipping supplies inside a brown box by way of USPS Parcel Post/Ground.

    Apr 23, 2016
  • anon

    How does USPS shipping you your free USPS Priority supplies in a brown box, justify you using those same supplies inside a brown box to send Parcel Post or First Class? You are grasping at straws to try and justify a Federal Offense. I agree with the OP, I could not find any information on USPS web site about the rules of use for the Free Priority Shipping supplies. But it does state directly on the supplies that it is a Federal Offense to use these items for anything other than the sole purpose of Priority Mail. I am an online seller and know that I would never use the supplies for anything other than sending Priority Mail. I think it is extremely unprofessional and shows your customer that you are a thief and are extremely cheap. In addition it creates an unfair advantage when some sellers are using these supplies for their boxes and to protect their items in the package. While other sellers who are following the rules, have to pay for their supplies. I also buy a lot of items and have been seeing this more and more. Mostly from eBay sellers, but it has trickled down to 3rd Party Sellers on Amazon.com Marketplace as well. I got a package yesterday from a seller on eBay, it was sent in a FedEx box with Fragile stickers covering wherever it said FedEx. Inside the box the item was wrapped in a USPS Priority Padded Envelope. The item was sent using USPS First Class Mail. (FYI the box and the padded envelope were not recycled, they were unused prior to shipping me the package)

    Jun 03, 2016
  • anon

    Are you kidding me on this blog? You can't even get the danged packages DELIVERED in a TIMELY FASHION, even when the correct boxes are used. Worry not about this. Go back to basics and just do the job you are obviously overpaid for. As I sit with yet another one of my packages stuck in another sorting center...2 weeks overdue.... sheesh

    Apr 01, 2015
  • anon

    This is a tough one. As a customer, I very frequently receive packages from eBay sellers, etc, where the seller has used free USPS products for internal padding, etc. this always really bothers me, and seems like theft to me. However, I'm not sure it would be cost effective to actually attempt to monitor the use of the products you supply. My advice would be for you to make a very clear and accessible policy that your free products are to be used as external packaging only, and only for items shipped via USPS, and that doing otherwise will be considered theft. Then ask that customers report to you (with photos, possibly?) when we receive a package where the seller has violated those policies. After that, a letter that threatens legal action might do the trick. ( would it be considered fraud by mail?)

    Mar 31, 2015
  • anon

    There is a local private postal/shipping store in my city. If I bring USPS flat rate packages to their location, is it legal for them to ship at a higher rate? They told me flat rate is not a service that they offer. That may be legal, but is it legal for them to then charge by weight, as if it were not a flat rate package, even though I'm using the flat rate packaging? How do I report this if it's not legal?

    Mar 26, 2015
  • anon

    If you are using USPS flat rate packaging then you should be dropping your shipment at an actual post office or handing it to an official letter carrier. A private third party shipping store has no obligation to accept any package from anybody and they don't work for the USPS. If you are dropping your package at that store because it is more convenient than actually going to the post office and potentially having to wait in line to mail your package, don't you think the store should be reimbursed for the time they will have to spend doing what you didn't find convenient? They can charge what ever a customer is willing to pay for their service. By the same token, have you ever purchased postage stamps from a third party store and not paid extra? Most places that sell postage stamps charge more than face value and customers are willing to pay more because of the convenience. I don't know about your local post office, but mine is always a long line just to buy stamps and I am willing to pay an extra fee for a book of stamps just so I don't have to wait in line. The same holds true for your package, the local store does not offer flat rate shipping as one of their normal services therefore they want to charge more because they may have to go out of their way to process your shipment. You either pay it or go somewhere else. There is nothing illegal about what they are doing.

    Nov 18, 2015
  • anon

    Hello, Thank you for taking the time to notify our offices of this occurrence. The role of the USPS Office of Inspector General is to investigate waste, theft, fraud and abuse within the Postal Service (USPS). Unfortunately, this issue falls outside of the jurisdiction of this office. However, please contact your local Postal Service Consumer Affairs Office at 1-800-275-8777, so they can look further into this matter for you.

    Mar 26, 2015
  • anon

    UPS and Fedex you have to have an account to order supplies. When you do order, they review it and check your shipping history. If you're consistanly ordering supplies and continue to ship nothing air, then they cut you off.

    Jan 14, 2013
  • anon

    Maybe charging for the materials, or only making them available at USPS locations would stop some of the abuse. Thanks.

    Feb 17, 2012
  • anon

    When you receive something (via USPS) in a USPS supplied box, is it still illegal to use that box for something else??

    Nov 17, 2011
  • anon

    Why make things more complicated, more management and admin....I say focus on cuts and keep it simple!

    Jul 26, 2011
  • anon

    While I agree that abuse exists, controlling/policing this issue can cause even worse problems and spend even more money. I can't help but wonder that when a someone uses a USPS box and then uses FedEx or UPS to ship it that there isn't some way we could get reimbursed from FedEx or UPS. They are our business partners, and I would think it would be obvious to them when a USPS package is in their mailstream. A business partner should be just that, a partner and work with us to deal with this issue.

    Mar 31, 2011
  • anon

    There is a lot of abuse of this process. Fix or eliminate it.

    Mar 31, 2011
  • anon

    sorry, J Beck's post was dated 10/26/09.

    Mar 29, 2011
  • anon

    I have delivered boxes to homes, only to see those boxes, later used in garage sales, and as storage boxes. I think that the boxes should still be free, and delivered to customers, but only after pre-paid postage is bought for them.

    Mar 28, 2011
  • anon

    Recent consumer news.... Residential and small-business customers can have six bulbs delivered to their homes or businesses at no cost by contacting the call center at 1-xxx-xxx-xxxx. Customers left hundreds of voice mails overnight, said spokeswoman Ellen XXXXXX, and have continued to call today. "They want the bulbs," she said. ********************* Please see "Penny for your thoughts".. JBeck post of 10/26/10 & my associate reply 01/28/10

    Mar 28, 2011
  • anon

    Both Priority and Express supplies should be labeled on the inside so they cannot be used for other types of mail. They are used for media mail rates-even when the contents are not media mail. Repeat offenders should not be allowed to use on line postage accounts nor order supplies on line.

    Mar 27, 2011
  • anon

    I have seen people order USPS supplies, then ship packages with UPS, you go and report this and the only response you get from management is a shrug of the shoulders. Its easier to waste money then try to resolve problems, I guess. Whether its a deposit, or prepaid packages or something else, The USPS needs to do something and not just sit there and do nothing.

    Mar 23, 2011
  • anon

    Why are we giving out free boxes and labels? Your hurting the packaging industry. This is frustrating for somebody who works in the industry to get prices low and make our products visible to the public.

    Mar 23, 2011
  • anon

    These boxes may be free to USPS customers, but where do you think they came from? The packaging industry makes them. They either sell their boxes to the Postal Service or they sell them to you. Box makers get their money either way. The real issue here is that some folks treat these boxes as a free source of cardboard, even though all are imprinted with a warning that such use is prohibited.

    Mar 23, 2016
  • anon

    I know of a number of businesses that use postal products for other things. One example is a business that used to buy bubble wrap. Now they use the postal bubble padded evelopes to package thier delicate items and place them inside postal priority boxes to mail them.

    Mar 22, 2011
  • anon

    As a mail service provider, I have been sent USPS in excess of my needs. I have two pallets of Priory Drop Ship Open and Distribute tray boxes that I do not use. I have had them in my warehouse for almost two years. I have contacted the USPS in an attempt to return the materials, but oddly there is no system for returns for this materials. I have cartons of flat rate Priority envelopes and boxes as well left over from mailing projects. I must have several thousand dollars worth of postal packaging in my warehouse not creating anything but cost to the USPS.

    Mar 22, 2011
  • anon

    Make the boxes a "deposit" system - charge a dollar for the box, then give a $1 postage discount to anyone using a Postal-sourced box. The box is still free in the long run, but only to those who are using it properly.

    Mar 22, 2011
  • anon

    Completely agree with the deposit idea. But you would have to implement some sort of ID (barcode) for each individual item that there was a deposit on to keep track if that deposit had already been paid back or not. I reuse boxes that I receive for shipping other stuff so I shouldn't get a deposit return on those.

    Mar 23, 2011
  • anon

    The waste of the boxes is a lot. My coworker saw a former customer of ours using all the large flat rate boxes in his shipping container as he was moving to the mainland. I have sent the priority tyvek bags back to the customer needing more postage as he had used it for first class. Even after being returned to him, he continues to use it but luckily one of the more diligent clerks caught it and returned it again. I have inspected media mail parcels and the flat rate boxes have been used. The worst offense is seeing the customers wrap the flat rate boxes in brown paper and then mailing it at priority rate rather than the higher flat rate. Also seen and very common is having it wrapped and then paying the local rate which is waaaaaaaay cheaper than the flat rate boxes. I think the boxes should be prepaid for up front whether it's paid at the counter or online. The postage for a lesser size flat rate is all too common revenue loss which I see everyday. In a way, we are just screwing our own selves up by having so much different boxes and pricing. Most clerks don't have a clue if the correct postage has even been applied. Now we have the padded flat rate envelopes but the customers are paying for flat rate envelopes only. In a way, the forever flat rate boxes will eliminate some problems. Something must be done to control the problem. Common problem is the customer using the other companies packaging then understating the weights. I pretty much can flag those parcels as underpaid in that if they are cheating by using the other guys stuff so they will cheat us also and I am usually right. :)

    Mar 22, 2011
  • anon

    I used to be a mail carrier, and I have seen a lot of customers using Express and priority boxes for other things. One guy had organized his garage with them. And also, at craft sales, venders store their goods in them and also pack fragile items for customers. Inter-office mail is another use I've seen while delivering. Having some kind of scanner the customers use when taking the boxes might help study how much is taken and not used.

    Mar 22, 2011
  • anon

    to many of the products (Boxes) wind up in UPS package stream,something should be printed on the inside of boxes to keep box from being used as packings for other types of shipping

    Mar 21, 2011
  • anon

    A surcharge should be implemented for all mailpieces that are clearly violating the proper use of Priority/Express supplies. A charge of maybe around $20 for every piece detected, enough to discourage anybody from trying it.

    Mar 21, 2011
  • anon

    The PO should charge the for the flat rate boxes avoid the confusion. similar to the foever stamp

    Mar 21, 2011
  • anon

    Yes. I recently loaded a pickup truck full of Priority boxes ordered by an individual. To date the person has not Mailed a single box out. What on earth are they using them for? The ability to order supllies should be tied to the number of click-n-ship parcels they send out.

    Mar 21, 2011
  • anon

    Each package should be labeled on the inside as Priority or Express.Many boxes are being turned inside out to hide the fact they are priority. Some of the boxes currently have this feature but most do not. The should also eliminate boxes wrapped in paper. Too many of the USPS boxes are being used then wrapped in paper to hide they fact they are priority boxes.

    Mar 21, 2011
  • anon

    I know lots of people who order these boxes to store things!! there sturdy and uniform, the boxes stack well. our red ink is sitting in her attic.

    Mar 21, 2011
  • anon

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yxIvanYP5I&feature=related go to this link... tons of vidoes on how to get "free" graffiti slaps/stickers from usps. what a waste of our supply monies!

    Mar 21, 2011
  • anon

    I purchase a lot from sellers on eBay and I am constanty amazed but the sellers use the free express mail boxes as packing materials indide the shipping boxes and how many times they use two or three express mail envelopes when they are sending old stamps that I purchase. Totally out of control.

    Mar 21, 2011

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