USPS Publication 52: What You Need to Know Before Mailing Lithium Batteries
Most Dangerous Goods professionals are well versed in the modal regulations for shipping lithium batteries. However, the U.S. Postal Service™ (USPS) is a far less familiar method.
The USPS accepts a limited number of lithium batteries for shipment via both ground and air transport. While these hazardous shipments come with considerable restrictions, these benefits can make mail a viable option.
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Shipping Lithium Batteries — Frequently Asked Questions
The easiest way to think of the USPS requirements for shipping lithium batteries may be to think of the IATA Section II requirements, or the specifications for excepted batteries found in the 49 CFR 173.185(c). Fully regulated batteries — those requiring a Class 9 hazard label — are NOT allowed to be shipped via the USPS. For everything else, use our helpful FAQs to help navigate the do's and don'ts.
1. What lithium battery types are governed for shipment by USPS?
The following lithium battery types are governed for shipment by the USPS:
- Lithium-ion battery, UN3480
- Lithium metal battery, UN3090
- Lithium-ion battery contained in equipment, UN3481
- Lithium-ion battery packed with equipment, UN3481
- Lithium metal battery contained in equipment, UN3091
- Lithium metal battery packed with equipment, UN 3091
2. How should shippers prepare batteries for USPS Pub 52 shipments?
The Post Office may require use of the Lithium Battery Handling Marking as well as a marking indicating the package is Surface Mail Only and is Forbidden for Transport Aboard Passenger Aircraft.
Additionally, here are six simple steps you can follow to stay compliant and ensure a successful shipment of lithium batteries:
- Read and understand the USPS Pub 52 General Conditions and the specific USPS Packing Instructions related to the batteries you're shipping.
- Verify that employees tasked with shipping understand and can execute their responsibilities.
- Make sure batteries are classified properly.
- Use the right packing instructions for domestic and international shipping. A mix-up here can lead to serious non-compliance!
- Have the required compliant markings and packaging on hand for use when needed.
- Prepare, pack and mark your packages correctly according to the specific guidance of the correct packing instruction.
3. What can't shippers do?
Here's a quick summary of what shippers cannot do:
- Use the mail to ship fully regulated (Class 9 labeled) batteries
- Mail UN3480/UN3090 (stand-alone batteries) to international destinations
- Mail UN3481/UN3091 in "packed with" configuration to international destinations
- Exceed limits for UN3481/UN3091 "contained in" that would trigger the requirement for a lithium battery marking for international mailings
Additionally, the Post Office has established quantity limits for shipping these batteries. The limits differ between domestic and international requirements. See the specific guidance for your shipment in the relevant packing instruction.
4. What are the USPS mailability standards for lithium batteries?
The Post Office has established broad mailability standards for lithium batteries that take the above limits into account. Here's a summary of the current standards:
- Lithium metal and lithium-ion cells and batteries "installed in" or "packed with equipment" may be mailed via domestic air or surface transportation.
- Lithium-ion (or lithium polymer) batteries may be mailed, in limited quantities, via domestic air transportation when both shipped from, and intended for delivery to, the state of Alaska.
- Except as provided above, individual lithium metal (or lithium alloy) and lithium-ion (or lithium polymer) batteries (without equipment) may be mailed in limited quantities via domestic surface transportation only, provided the batteries are in the originally sealed packaging, and are packaged and marked as described in these regulations.
- For international shipments, ONLY lithium-ion or lithium metal batteries "installed in" equipment (USPS analog to "contained in" in the modal regulations) are permitted. Stand-alone batteries and or batteries "packed with" equipment are NOT allowed in international mail!
5. What are the critical differences between Pub 52 and the modal regulations?
- The USPS refers to "mailpieces" interchangeably with the term "packages". Keep this in mind when sorting through the USPS regulations.
- The USPS concept of "very small, consumer type batteries" has no specific analog in the modal regulations and as such represents a unique determination by the Post Office.
- When e-commerce shippers utilize bulk mail consolidators, they must meet the requirements of both the 49 CFR and USPS Pub 52 for the same packages. This can be challenging, because the Cargo Aircraft Only label cannot be used since it is not recognized by the USPS; therefore, the shipper may be required to display the text marking requirements for both the 49 CFR and Pub 52 (e.g., "Lithium Ion Batteries Forbidden For Transport Aboard Passenger Aircraft"/"Surface Mail Only...")
- International, APO/FPO/DPO, and domestic military address shipments may only be "contained in" (UN3481/UN3091) and cannot exceed limits that would require the application of the lithium battery handling marking.
6. How do USPS lithium battery acceptance limits compare to UPS and FedEx?
7. Which Labelmaster products can be purchased to assist in shipment?
As a shipper, we're here to help you solve the lithium battery puzzle. From mailability and packing to the detailed marking instructions found in USPS Pub 52, be sure to take advantage of Labelmaster's helpful and relevant product lines for easily accessible regulatory expertise. See product lists below.
Have questions? Labelmaster has answers!
Labelmaster is always ready to help you navigate the often complex maze of regulations that govern the shipment of these materials. We can also assist with choosing the most appropriate products to meet your specific needs.
Simply call 1-800-621-5808 and ask for our Regs department. They will help with any questions about Publication 52 or Dangerous Goods shipping.
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