Tell your printer to ‘sack’ the sacks!

Max Heath

Oct 1, 2020


For a boost in handling efficiency in postal processing plants, it is essential to use Flats Trays — white plastic tubs — rather than sacks for distant copies. As controversy swirls about changes in truck trips and overtime at USPS, this reminder is more needed than ever.

Some postmasters still tell newspapers that sacks must be used. DMM 207.22.7 and 207.25.5 can be cited to prove the case for trays, which have been allowed as a mailer option since 2006. Distant trays can go on automated tray sorting equipment used in many plants.

The Postal Service also granted Periodical newspapers the option of preparing some flats trays without lids and strapping as of January 2018.

Customer Support Ruling PS-347 limits preparation without lids to pieces “that will be worked or processed at the entry facility or associated Sectional Center Facility (SCF).” 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. Often the SCF and ADC are the same territory.

That would also include any Hub plants handing off “Direct” trays of 5-digit or carrier-route sorted copies flowing to other offices within former small SCFs consolidated into larger ones. This should cover most trays in a mailing, with only OMX (Origin Mixed ADC), Mixed ADC (MADC) trays to distant plants, and perhaps a few others for distant ADCs requiring lids.

CSR PS-347 came after three years of efforts by the NNA Postal Committee.

No problems were found by SCFs receiving test 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 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 due to “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.

This should remove any objection from printers to adopt the practice of using flats trays instead of sacks to help delivery for their printing customers. Newspapers should make sure their printers, especially if not NNA members, get the word 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 by 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” was added to Periodicals Postage Statement 3541 in 2018. Lack of governors to oversee postal management was blamed for the lack of a lower price in 2018-19. 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 there’s 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 rule change (DMM granted on NNA’s request more than 15 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.

MAX HEATH is a postal consultant for NNA members and Landmark Community Newspapers. He is former postal chair of the NNA Postal Committee. Email