2007-03-02 Thinking Ahead–Letter from Chaille: Lost or Stolen? Postal Pallets Pose a Problem (By Chaille M. Brindley)
The pallet industry is full of crooks. Or at least that must be what the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) thinks.
Suddenly aware of many postal pallets outside of its possession, the USPS is talking about breaking bad on anyone who has these government pallets and refuses to return them. The issue of postal pallets came up at the recent Western Pallet Association meeting.
Our staff first reported on this issue in the June Recycle Record, our monthly recycling report. This issue was briefly mentioned in the November issue of the Enterprise although most of our coverage has been for those who subscribe to our market reports. If you want to keep up on this issue, consider subscribing by calling 800/805-0263 or visit www.recyclerecord.com.
The USPS wants these pallets back. A number of recyclers have been visited by Postal Service employees demanding the return of stray pallets. The USPS has indicated that it has active criminal investigations underway in several parts of the country involving plastic recyclers, pallet bounty hunters, mailers and even post office employees.
As Gordon Hughes of the Canadian Wooden Pallet & Container Association recently pointed out, thousands of postal pallets are used by the printing industry to distribute millions of flyers. Many of these never make it back to the government. That may not always be the customer's fault.
Currently, the USPS does not have an active recovery program. While one is supposedly in development that does nothing for the thousands of pallets floating around all parts unknown. USPS pallets have been found outside of the country grocery supply chain. Rick LeBlanc even wrote about seeing some near a ride at Universal Studios in Hollywood. The government's lack of action to this point makes the pallets appear more abandoned than stolen.
At least CHEP has active recovery personnel in place and attempts to educate the industry through letters, personal visits and involvement in industry groups. The USPS may take the attitude that it is the government and can do whatever it wants to do. And while the government may own those pallets, slavery ended in 1865. The USPS is not entitled to free logistics and retrieval services.
The USPS has not appeared to do the things that helped CHEP avoid claims of abandoning its property when the rental giant was taken to court under similar circumstances. CHEP was able to prove that it had done many things beyond marking pallets to secure its property. This may be starting to change; the CWPCA reported that the USPS has sent letters to all the authorized users of USPS pallets informing them of the problem and what they are supposed to do with postal pallets. But no such outreach campaign has begun with the pallet industry.
The USPS should take a lesson from CHEP, which has offered to pay recyclers for its services. CHEP claims that it does not buy its pallets back, instead the rental company is paying recyclers for the expenses associated with safeguarding and returning stray pallets.
Initially, the government has refused to pay for these assets. It has simply demanded the return of the pallets and considered those who don't in possession of stolen property. Where have I heard that before? That is exactly what CHEP claimed at first in the 90s. Then it switched approaches when it saw the benefit of working with not against the pallet industry.
Heavy handed tactics have not worked well in the past. Last year a USPS spokesman told Materials Handling Management that he was even ready to consider a bounty program just to make sure the government gets pallets back.
Now that sounds more like it. I suggest that the USPS consider a program that is similar to CHEP's Asset Recovery Program. The only difference is that I would tweak the program to take into account regional market differences and the fact that many recyclers have to pay to acquire these assets. It is only fair that true costs are covered plus room for a decent profit.
Some pallet companies have reported difficulties getting the USPS to pick up the pallets. And that is not surprising since the federal government is not known for speedy service or action.
The National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (NWPCA) has been working on the stray postal pallet issue with the USPS. More details will be available after the NWPCA's annual business meeting. Some of the postal pallets may be stolen. But many of them are likely misused by USPS customers. Some of them are lost. Old USPS policies and neglect have led to the problem. It's good that the government is talking about doing something about it. Let's hope it's more than just talk. For any solution to work, it has to be fair, and it has to involve pallet companies and users.
I for one don't believe that the pallet industry is full of crooks. I like to think of pallet people as hard working Americans who don't work for free.