Flats Tray use more important as drastic plant closings threaten

August 8, 2014

By Max Heath

Postal Tips 

Watch for multiple labels, stickers on tubs

The U.S. Postal Service, after giving up on any chance of a postal reform bill to provide financial relief from Congress, announced its long-delayed “final” round of plant consolidations and closings in July, starting in January and finishing by fall 2015. 

Although previous rounds caused plenty of pain for newspapers and other mailers, this next round, if carried out, will bring delays of mail processing and delivery to even lower levels. USPS has been violating its own service standards for months now, and that stands to worsen in the future, even with volume dropping, as many states will be reduced to one plant only.

Since late 2006, the National Newspaper Association has promoted the use of Flats Trays, commonly calls tubs, instead of sacks. Many newspapers have successfully made the shift. Sadly, others have not, often because central plants lack proper storage or complain that they don’t “cube out” well in delivery trucks. (Sacks collapse and air escapes, whereas the plastic tubs, usually with green lids strapped around the top, can have “dead air space.”) 

However, now is the time for all newspapers and their printers to revisit this decision. Here’s why:



USPS mail preparation personnel in headquarters are considering whether to allow trays to travel without lids, which should solve trucking problems by allowing less-than-full tubs to be nested one inside the other. Although no final rule has been issued, some districts and plants already allow unlidded trays for mail within their jurisdiction. 

I’d suggest that tubs being delivered within the SCF of origin, often comprising the bulk of the tubs, be unlidded with local permission.  That territory is growing as consolidations reduce the number of Sectional Center Facilities. Tubs travelling longer distances and through multiple plants and postal truck trips should continue to be lidded to keep the contents intact until they reach their destination.



Remember that one great advantage of using flats trays is that they are essentially a First-Class “flats” container. Periodicals in OMX (Origin Mixed ADC) trays travel on First-Class trucks to destinations up to 1,500-2,000 miles from the SCF of origin, helping newspapers get improved delivery in a multi-state area. 

Trays (tubs) are easier to identify in a mailstream of sacks that are now all alike—white plastic for Periodicals and Standard Mail, etc. No more brown sacks as in the old days for Periodicals. Just place a pink two-inch tray tag in the plastic holder. Avoid taping to the tray if possible. Only First-Class mail and Periodicals can use flats trays, the latter under DMM 707.20.4.

You will need to work with your software vendor to set the number of copies per tray based on thickness or average size of your paper to tell how many copies will fit per tray.

The Postal Service has wanted to rid itself of sacks for years now. They are expensive to handle and help drive up costs of Periodicals mail. NNA hopes to obtain a discount for tubs when the industry makes substantial conversion.



One problem that exists with trays, and may be worsening with lower staffing levels in processing plants, is the failure to remove old tags and stickers before they are re-sent to mailers for their use. More than one newspaper in my former company, for which I still consult, has had complaints from acceptance post offices about a multiplicity of stickers or tags on trays from prior handlings. (See accompanying photo of examples.)

NNA has previously been assured by USPS headquarters Mail Transport Equipment managers that mailers are to be sent clean trays. But after pressing the issue again recently, we learned that they depend on individual processing plants to clean trays of already used stickers and tray tags rather than the MTE centers, which prepare pallets of shrink-wrapped trays with lids for shipment to mailers. That is always happening.

Often tag holders have been torn off by machinery and some mailers place adhesive stickers in their place. Worse yet, they place adhesive stickers right over the tag holder. Newspapers shouldn’t be bashful about returning worst-case trays to the source plant. But they also need to rip off conflicting indicators of where the tray is to be sorted in order to see that their readers’ mail gets where intended.



Remember, Periodicals and Standard mail flats like newspapers and shoppers may be dropped at delivery offices using your transportation in un-sacked bundles of up to 40 pounds—no container is necessary. Neither sacks nor flats trays should be used in these instances. 

In-county or trade-area mail of significant quantity (roughly 50 copies and above per ZIP) should be DDU-dropped in order to maximize delivery times and gain lower DDU prices, which apply to carrier-route sorted copies. Exceptional Dispatch rules in DMM 707.28.3 allow entry at multiple DDUs.

NNA got the DDU bundle-only rules changed in 2004 and 2005. It is complied with for the most part. But some local post offices still tell mailers that sacks are required. Refer them to DMM 707.23.4.2, second sentence, for Periodicals, and DMM 707. for Standard Mail Carrier Route sorted flats. This ends the need for sacks to any destination. Sack the sacks! © Max Heath 2014


Max Heath, NNA postal chair, is a postal consultant for Athlon Media, publisher of Athlon Sports magazine, American Profile, Relish and Spry newspaper supplements, and Landmark Community Newspapers LLC. E-mail maxheath@lcni.com.


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