Flats trays can now be prepared without lids: Central printers free to nest tubs for delivery

The U.S. Postal Service has granted Periodical newspapers the option of preparing flats trays (white tubs) without lids and strapping, as required since 2006.
Customer Support Ruling PS-347 has been issued by Lizbeth Dobbins, manager of product classification at USPS headquarters.
 It limits preparation without lids to pieces “that will be worked or processed at the entry facility or associated Sectional Center Facility.” That would include all the 3-digit ZIP codes covered by the SCF distribution territory, starting with the first three digits of your own ZIP code.
That would also include any Hub plants handing off “Direct” trays of 5-digit or Carrier-Route sorted copies flowing to other offices in former small SCFs consolidated into larger ones. This should cover most trays in a mailing, with Mixed ADC trays to distant plants, and perhaps a few others, requiring lids.
The CSR comes after three years of efforts by the National Newspaper Association Postal Committee, and two tests of unlidded flats trays originating at central printing plants in Elizabethtown and Elkton, KY, with mail traveling to originating Sectional Center Facilities in Louisville, KY, and Nashville, TN. Thanks goes to these printing plants operated by The News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown and Quality Web Printing in Elkton.
No problems were found by SCFs receiving this mail. In fact, postal employees and supervisors reported the lack of tops (green lids) provided quicker identification of the contents as time-sensitive newspapers. Plus, time was saved in cutting the straps and removing the lids to start sorting the contents, usually manually, inside the plants. 
Of course, there is a related savings for newspapers and their printers in reduced time to prepare mail by eliminating the requirement to lid and strap trays for most of the copies in a mailing.
The unlidded flats trays could also be nested one inside the other when not overly full. This saves space not only on postal trucks operated by contract haulers, increasingly full of packages, but on delivery trucks from printers back to newspapers and post offices.

One of the main reasons NNA sought this change was to help central printing plants that mail, and then make delivery to post offices for multiple newspapers, often on the same truckload. The lid requirement more quickly filled up those trucks because of “air” in less-than-full trays. Sacks collapse, but trays take up as much as double the space on a load. The inability to “cube out” the same space on a truck made it a deterrent for use by central printers.
NNA hopes this will encourage printers to adopt the practice of using flats trays instead of sacks, because it can improve delivery times. Newspapers should make sure their printers, especially if not NNA members, get the word on this change and encourage flats tray adoption. 
Pallets of flats trays, nested upside down, are available through SCFs or by order from Mail Transport Equipment through their MTEOR website. Mailers who send postage statements electronically to their post office can register online for MTEOR through the Business Customer Gateway and adding MTEOR as a service.

NNA also has repeatedly asked for a discount that recognizes the improved efficiency of tubs versus sacks. A new section for “Flats Trays” has been added to Periodicals Postage Statement 3541 for 2018. Lack of governors to oversee postal management was blamed for the lack of a lower price in 2018. But a new page to Part E, “Outside-County—Tray Prices” was added as Page 7 of PS Form 3541. (There are no container charges assessed on in-county mail, thus no reason for change there.)
Sacks are on a separate Page 6, Part E. Most software vendors offer the option to set up trays, and PAVE-certified software should show the containers on the proper page.

Newspapers are reminded that a rules change granted on NNA’s request more than a dozen years ago allows you to enter Periodical bundles without any container (sack or tray) at post offices of delivery. This includes copies dropped by your own transportation for delivery at your origin-entry post office, and at Exceptional Dispatch offices (approved via simple letter request and delivered without payment or documentation required, as found at DMM 207.28.3).
Some post offices ask newspapers to place mail for their local carrier routes in flats trays. It is not a good use of tubs, but most newspapers like to go along with the local office. Other post offices or the mail processing plants serving them have already asked or instructed newspapers using tubs to send them without lids. So, the practical application of this new CSR has been practiced randomly, and wisely, already. © Max Heath 2018

Max Heath, NNA postal chair, is a postal consultant for Landmark Community Newspapers, LLC, and NNA members. He is sponsored by Interlink Software. Email maxheath@lcni.com.