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USPS Develops ‘No Fly List’ for Electronics

Say goodbye (at least for now) to dropping by your local US post office and sending a smartphone or tablet to anyone overseas, including those with military post office boxes. If it has a lithium battery in it, you're going to have to a find another way of getting the box out as an international shipment.

The US Postal Service recently banned shipments of electronic products containing lithium batteries, citing risk of fire. Shipwire.com has a list of items that will be affected, with all the popular consumer electronic products mentioned: laptop computers, smartphones, tablets, cameras, MP3 players, Bluetooth headsets, GPS devices, portable DVD players, and even radio-controlled toys.

You can read more about the exact steps the USPS is taking by downloading this report, but the short version goes like this:

    Effective May 16, 2012, the Postal Service will revise Mailing Standards of the United States Postal Service, Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) section 601.10.20 to codify that primary lithium metal or lithium alloy (non-rechargeable) cells and batteries or secondary lithium-ion cells and batteries (rechargeable) are prohibited when mailed internationally or to and from an APO, FPO, or DPO location. However, this prohibition does not apply to lithium batteries authorized under DMM 601.10.20 when mailed within the United States or its territories.

    International standards have recently been the subject of discussion by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Universal Postal Union (UPU), and the Postal Service anticipates that on January 1, 2013, customers will be able to mail specific quantities of lithium batteries internationally (including to and from an APO, FPO, or DPO location) when the batteries are properly installed in the personal electronic devices they are intended to operate.

What's slightly odd about all this is that the USPS seems to be the only organization implementing the rule. Other major logistics companies and national postal offices, as far as I know, will still be shipping devices with lithium batteries.

Although the measure likely won't have a significant impact on volume shippers that typically route large quantities via other logistics companies, such as UPS or FedEx, or by air freight or boat cargo, it does drive home the fact that companies in the high-tech supply chain have to keep a constant eye on local shipping policies, or there could be havoc in the pipeline. It's also a good reminder of why many companies have various shipping warehouses scattered around the planet.

It looks as if end-consumers and those shipping repair units are likely to feel the brunt of the new USPS policy initially. Some small businesses might be hit, too, including online retailers that ship internationally. Will your business be hurt by this? How is your company dealing with the USPS lithium battery ban?

41 comments on “USPS Develops ‘No Fly List’ for Electronics

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    May 25, 2012

    I'm afraid I see this as inevitable (the banning of certain items from shipping.) My guess is it would have been security that was the driver, however. Risk of fire is compelling enough, don't get me wrong! But I figured it would have been the potential to use a devices as an explosive that would have gotten them banned from the mail/parcel service.

  2. Barbara Jorgensen
    May 25, 2012

    It also seems to me if companies start removing the batteries before shipment and declare them “battery-free” it might be a work-around. Of course, the next issue for consumers is getting the batteries, which means retail. And retail relies and parcel services as well. So we are back to Square 1.

  3. prabhakar_deosthali
    May 26, 2012

    I think all airlines follow this rule strictly. Any electronic item that goes into your baggage has to have its batteries( not just lithium but all types)  removed. They check it during the x-ray inspection of the baggage.

    As Barbara says , apart from the risk of fire there is also a risk that such devices can be used as explosives in disguise by the miscreants.

  4. Susan Fourtané
    May 26, 2012

    Barbara,

    The batteries could be packed separately, in the same package/box, but not in the device. 

    -Susan 

  5. Susan Fourtané
    May 26, 2012

    Hi, Jennifer 

    “The  US Postal Service recently banned shipments of electronic products containing lithium batteries, citing risk of fire.”

    Is there any evidence that fire has actually happened as a result of shipping a device with a lithium battery? 

    -Susan 

  6. elctrnx_lyf
    May 26, 2012

    Won't this be a loss of money for USPS? I do not see a clear why they do not want to ship any of these products overseas. Is it specifically due to fire accident risk or is there any other big risks?

  7. Susan Fourtané
    May 26, 2012

    I found this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11505505 , it goes back to 2010. 

    According to this saferty alert to operators (2010): http://www.faa.gov/other_visit/aviation_industry/airline_operators/airline_safety/safo/all_safos/media/2010/SAFO10017.pdf    

    “Testing conducted by the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center (FAA Tech Center) indicates that particular propagation characteristics are associated with lithium batteries. Overheating has the potential to create thermal runaway, a chain reaction leading to self-heating and release of a battery's stored energy.

    In a fire situation, the air temperature in a cargo compartment fire may be above the auto-ignition temperature of lithium. For this reason, batteries that are not involved in an initial fire may ignite and propagate, thus creating a risk of a catastrophic event.

    The existence and magnitude of the risk will depend on such factors as the total number and type of batteries on board an aircraft, the batteries' proximity to one another, and existing risk mitigation measures in place (including the type of fire suppression system on an aircraft, appropriate packaging and stowage of batteries, and compliance with existing requirements contained within both FAA and PHMSA regulations).”  

    I believe that with the right meausurements, change in packing, and carrying only a certain amount in each aircraft, it is possible to go back to shipping them. 

    -Susan 

  8. Houngbo_Hospice
    May 26, 2012

    How often had those “lithium-embedded devices” caught fire in the past. Do They have any statistics? Or it is just a prevention measure that doesn't rely on any valid data?

  9. Houngbo_Hospice
    May 26, 2012

    @SF:

    “I believe that with the right meausurements, change in packing, and carrying only a certain amount in each aircraft, it is possible to go back to shipping them.”

    It may depend on how the policy will affect  USPS  revenue streams. My question is what will happen if other companies start implementating the same restriction policy? How will that hurt the consumer electronic business?

  10. stochastic excursion
    May 26, 2012

    This looks like nothing more than risk management by a company whose mission is in large part dedicated to cost-effective service.  Private small-parcel carriers have hazardous material service available at a price.

    Incidentally, there's been controversy over whether lithium batteries should be classified as hazardous materials.  A yea or nay on either side of this issue would substantially impact companies like Apple and Samsung.

  11. Susan Fourtané
    May 27, 2012

    Hi, electnnx_lyf

    “Won't this be a loss of money for USPS?”

    Of course it will. But if we think about it, and if there is a high risk of lithium batteries shipments causing fire, USPS can't ignore it, unless until a new packaging method is applied to prevent any possible risk. 

    -Susan

  12. Susan Fourtané
    May 27, 2012

    Hi, HH 

    “My question is what will happen if other companies start implementating the same restriction policy? How will that hurt the consumer electronic business?”

    Indeed. As Jennifer reports, the other shipping companies haven't implemented the USPS' restriction policy. This is one of the reasons why I questioned if there is real evidence of the risk of shipping lithium batteries, or if it's just a precaution, a just in case kind of thing.

    electrnx (see below) asked if USPS won't be losing money in the process, which makes us think that the risk may be real, otherwise the company would have continued with its business, wouldn't it? –just brainstorming here–

    As for your good question on how would the consumer electronic business be affected if the other companies would decide to adopt the same restriction policy, I believe the business would be seriously damaged.

    Now, don't you think that before this happens a solution will be found in order to continue with the business? 

    -Susan 

  13. Ashu001
    May 27, 2012

    Susan,

    First and foremost-The USPS Is not a Strictly Commercial Business.

    So normal ,Realistic and Practical considerations on ways to do Business do not apply here.

    Its a Bankrupt,bloated entity surviving only on Taxpayer Largesse today.

    That is why they can easily take decisions which hurt their existing(&shrinking very sharply) business and still be proud about it.

    For more details See HERE

    http://news.yahoo.com/senate-votes-slow-closing-post-offices-210018033.html

    As a  Taxpayer what I am more interested in is ,Did anyone in Senior Management ever consult Congress or the People(We own USPS today)???

    Electronics represents the fastest growing section of Mail today.And the USPS wants to get out of this market ??

    Where is the economic rationale behind this move???

    Since every American is on the Hook for 16 Billion Dollars(the latest USPS Bailout);is'nt it time somebody asked these guys what they are doing to set the business up on a sustainable,Long-term model???

    Regards

    Ashish.

  14. Ashu001
    May 27, 2012

    Houngbo,

    Don't worry. Fedex,UPS and DHL will just continue to eat USPS's Lunch and USPS will be back begging for more Taxpayer Money Two years from now.

    Ashish.

  15. ahdand
    May 28, 2012

    So you think this is a good move ? Don't you think this will have a much more bigger impact on their business in long term than what you have mentioned ? I have my doubts on successful they will be if they continue to take monopoly stands like this

  16. Houngbo_Hospice
    May 28, 2012

    @tech4people:

    I wonder what USPS's  market strategy team   was thinking. Or it might just be that they have more goods than they can carry. 

  17. Houngbo_Hospice
    May 28, 2012

    @SF:

    “Now, don't you think that before this happens a solution will be found in order to continue with the business? “

    I agree that a solution should be found, and the pausible one is that no other shipping company would follow  USPS, unless they are compeled to do so by a national or an international regulation body.

  18. _hm
    May 28, 2012

    USPS should offer an alternate solution. Making such sudden move is harmful to business. They should reconsider this decision.

     

  19. Jennifer Baljko
    May 29, 2012

    Barbara – I also wondered about this – separating the batteries from the devices. Guessing there is a reason if that's not an obvious solution.

  20. Jennifer Baljko
    May 29, 2012

    Susan – everything I read was vague about the cause of the fires… language was “could have been caused by” lithium batteries.

  21. Jennifer Baljko
    May 29, 2012

    Susan – Thanks for posting the link.

  22. Jennifer Baljko
    May 29, 2012

    Ashish – thanks for posting the link. I don't think the USPS is exiting the business altogether. It sounds like they have to bring their “standards” more into alignment with international shipping requirements.

  23. Jennifer Baljko
    May 29, 2012

    nimantha.d – hard to say. USPS is already losing money as consumer rely less and less on physical shipments and migrate to digital delivery. Think they will probably be taking steps to ensure that they resume these lucrative shipments.

  24. Jennifer Baljko
    May 29, 2012

    _hm – Let's see if they resume service in Jan 2013. If they do, it was a temporary shortfall. If they don't, it will be interesting to see how they talk themselves out of it.

     

  25. bolaji ojo
    May 29, 2012

    Jenn, In many cases, it makes no sense to separate the battery from the device. Try taking out the battery of the iPad or iPhone, for instance. The equipment is sealed tight from the factory and can't be opened by a retailer or a service center without some damages to the system.

  26. Jay_Bond
    May 29, 2012

    I find this rather odd that the USPS would be the only major carrier with this ban. The USPS is hurting significantly, and it would seem that a move like this could only hurt them worse by causing consumers to use UPS or FedEx. I could understand the move if this was a universal move by all carriers, at that point some solution to the issue would be presented. I think USPS is underestimating the financial loss, and for their sake they better hope their push for more junk mail works.

  27. Susan Fourtané
    May 29, 2012

    Hi, HH 

    There doesn't have to be enough evidence for other companies to follow USPS, or for an international regulation. You know, I am tempted to go to the postal service here, and ask what they think about this case, and if they consider the lithium batteries of any risk. Or maybe an airline. I just would like to hear another opinion from someone who is actually in the shipping business. In a way, I smell rat. 

    -Susan 

  28. Susan Fourtané
    May 29, 2012

    Hi, Jennifer 

    Yes, what I have read trying to find more evidence is the same, very vague reasons about the cause of the fire. The same they could have said about something else if the lithium batteries woudn't have been there, maybe. 

    -Susan

  29. Barbara Jorgensen
    May 29, 2012

    @jayBond: Good point. This measure does seem to hurt USPS if other carriers don't follow suit. They seem intent on self-destruction, don't they?

  30. Jay_Bond
    May 29, 2012

    @Barbara, yes, it does seem like their biggest enemy is themselves and Congress. I would say a move like this just points out the need for an overhaul of the postal service and the Congressional controls placed on them.

  31. Houngbo_Hospice
    May 29, 2012

    @SF

    “I am tempted to go to the postal service here, and ask what they think about this case, and if they consider the lithium batteries of any risk. Or maybe an airline.”

    That will be great. You can start with a post office close to your residence. I think I would like do the same thing here. Keep us posted.

  32. Houngbo_Hospice
    May 29, 2012

    @jay_bond:

    My question is why would the Congress target USPS without compelling other shipping companies  to follow suit? Is there any reason to that?

  33. Jay_Bond
    May 29, 2012

    @Hospice, What I was reffering to regarding Congress was their overall say in the USPS operations. The USPS is hemmoraging billions of dollars. If they were a normal business, they would of been bankrupt and out of business. Congressional oversight has kept them from making crucial changes (no more Saturday deliveries and closures) that would save billions and possibly put the postal service in the black eventually. It would seem like developing a ban on batteries for overseas deliveries is going to cost them millions, and cause customers to use UPS and FedEx.

  34. Houngbo_Hospice
    May 29, 2012

    @jay_Bond:

    I see. That is certainly not the best way fo them to avoid bankruptcy. We will see whether they will back off or not.

    Thanks!

  35. Anna Young
    May 29, 2012

    @Susan, the impact of this sort of ban is certainly significant for USPS who is observing the ban and for any other company who intends to join in the ban for that matter. I just wonder if there' some sort of an alternative method of packaging these items without the risk factor raised. Surely there's bound to be an option to packaging rather than ban their shipment altogether.  It doesn't sound a wise move.

  36. Anna Young
    May 29, 2012

    @_hm, I'm sure USPS is already feeling the impact of it's decision. I'm certain it won't take them long to reverse the move.

  37. William K.
    May 29, 2012

    So how long is it going to take for somebody to start making fake labels that identify products as perhaps “Nickle-metalHydride” or some such? And if the battery pack does not explode or burn up, who would ever know?

    Of course it is already possible to pack them safely, but it does add a bit of weight. Fireproof bags and boxes have been around for a while, and it should not be that much of a challenge for the makers to figure out which ones would provide adequate protection against a destrucing battery pack.

    Of course they do have the right to refuse to carry them, but they need to understand the actual level of risk in transporting the many batteries that don't explode.

  38. stochastic excursion
    May 30, 2012

    In fairness, much of the postal service's red ink is actually a statutory reserve ($103 billion worth) mandated for the retirement of future employees.  Here's a recent report that really gets down into the weeds.

  39. Jay_Bond
    May 30, 2012

    The report does highlight many issues within the USPS, but what I was getting to was the fact of having a Congressional oversight and needed Congressional approval to alter any neccesary changes to put the service in the black. While employee health care and pensions continue to plague many companies, the USPS does have a few short term fixes that could stop such serious loss of money, but still needs Congress to say okay.

  40. FLYINGSCOT
    May 30, 2012

    I reckon the USPS dictate will not affect too many businesses (or indeed individuals) as there are many lower cost shippers available.  I was amazed recently how simple and cost effective it is to ship goods via online brokerage services.  

  41. Susan Fourtané
    June 6, 2012

    Anna, 

    ” Surely there's bound to be an option to packaging rather than ban their shipment altogether.  It doesn't sound a wise move.”

    No. There is always an option, if they want to find one. Changing the packaging seems to be the one that would help keep USPS and manufacturers in business. 

    -Susan

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