Improving bundle integrity helps delivery, lowers costs

December 2, 2014

USPS wants to
eliminate string,
rubber bands

 By Max Heath
Postal Tips 

The U.S. Postal Service reports too many broken bundles going across its bundle-sorting machines in processing plants. Although newspapers are just a small portion of such bundles, poor string tying by some larger-volume mailers threatens to eliminate string in favor of plastic strapping machines.

Cost studies have shown that when bundles break, it costs 12.6 cents per piece to handle the loose pieces one at a time to either reconstruct the bundle or send the pieces loose in a container to a manual sortation process within the plant. 

Frankly, the greatest concern for newspapers is that bundle breakage could be the cause of delayed mail.

I want to remind newspapers of the need to make proper bundles, especially on mail traveling in containers—they should be flats trays (white tubs), not sacks. Bundles in sacks have a much greater tendency to break while tubs protect them, and usually move faster through the network of plants.

(With another round of plant closings and consolidations set to start Jan. 15 unless Congress takes action to stop it, the need for flats tray use becomes even more important to improve the odds of timely delivery outside your trade area.)

Most newspapers drop 80 percent or more of their mail directly to delivery units (post offices) in bundles only—no sacks or tubs required—where you make direct drops under Exceptional Dispatch. But even locally-dropped mail must be moved into and about the post office.  

DDU-dropped bundles can weigh up to 40 pounds each, thus the need to stay together until sorted to the carriers.

All bundles, whether those dropped at your local “origin” post office or Exceptional Dispatch offices, should be bound tightly, without damaging the newspaper, of course.

Whether using strap or string, bundles should be strapped twice, around the width as well as the length. The binding material must not cover the top label in the bundle, making the destination visible. (The top line of the label, after a series of asterisks, shows the sort of each piece in the bundle, such as 5-DIGIT XXXXX, 3-DIGIT XXX, etc.)



The key to tying string bundles that maintain their “bundle integrity,” as the Postal Service describes it, is to make sure you go TWICE around in each direction, and to ensure the tension on the string tyer is set to a high level. Bundle tests conducted for the National Newspaper Association—and dropped from 6 feet to test their durability for a test mailing from Elizabethtown, KY, to Baltimore, MD—held up well when tightly double-stringed in both direction.



To make the requirements clear, I want to share some language from DMM 203.3 regarding bundle requirements. Note that the Periodicals chapter was recently moved from 707 to 207. Some requirements moved to 203 to avoid duplication in multiple chapters. 

“All pieces in a bundle should be faced (arranged with the addresses in the same read direction) with an address visible on the top piece.” (DMM 203.3.2)


DMM 203.3.5 Securing

Bundles of Flat

A. Bundles must be secured with banding, shrinkwrap, or shrinkwrap plus one or more bands. Banding includes plastic bands, rubber bands, twine/string and similar material. Use of wire or metal banding is not permitted. 

B. When one band is used, it must be placed tightly around the girth (narrow dimension).

C. Bundles more than 1-inch high must be secured with at least two bands or with shrinkwrap. When double banding is used to secure bundles, encircle the length and girth of the bundle at least once. Additional bands may be used if none lies within 1 inch of any bundle edge.

D. Banding tension must be sufficient to tighten and depress the edges of the bundle. Loose banding is not allowed.

E. When twine/string is used to band bundles, the knot(s) must be secure so the banding does not come loose during transit and processing. 

F. Bundles on pallets must be secure and stable, and they are subject to requirements to band the entire pallet and specific weight limits, depending on entry point. (Generally, minimum is 250 pounds and maximum 2,200 pounds. There is no minimum for pallets entered at the DDU.)


Other requirements

Bundles in sacks cannot exceed 20 pounds (DMM 203.3.8a), though we strongly recommend against using sacks, but instead use flats trays. And newspapers in full trays do not have to be bundled IF all the mail in the tub is sorted to the same destination as the tray tag. For example, mail in a full ADC tray need not be bundled if it would have all been prepared in ADC bundles to the same destination. (DMM 203 3.4)

Bundles in sacks must not exceed 8 inches in height (recommended maximum height is 6 inches). (DMM 203.3.8.e.1)

For unsacked bundles entered at DDUs, “Mailers must make the fewest number of bundles possible, up to the 40-pound maximum, while maintaining bundle integrity. To determine the maximum number of bundles for a route, divide the total weight of mail for that route by 10 and round up to the next whole number.” (DMM

NNA has friends in USPS headquarters who understand that small mailers cannot avoid string tyers at the smallest newspapers that prepare their own mail. We expect some concession for newspapers on string in any final rules change. This shows your membership dues at work through our reps on the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee.

NNA is committed in return to educate its members to ensure appropriate bundle integrity is maintained.

Please e-mail me with any questions in this regard. © Max Heath 2014


Max Heath, NNA postal chair, is a postal consultant for Athlon Media Group, publisher of Athlon Sports magazine, Parade, American Profile, Relish, Dash and Spry newspaper supplements, and also for Landmark Community Newspapers LLC. E-mail

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