What Are the USPS Boxes For In 2024? (Your Full Guide)

As a retail and shipping industry analyst with over 10 years of experience, I often get asked about those collection of boxes sitting near the entrance of the post office. If you‘ve ever wandered into your local USPS branch, you‘ve likely noticed the various shipping boxes and wondered…what are these USPS boxes for anyway? Can I use them for anything I want to ship? Here‘s my in-depth guide for 2024.

USPS Boxes Are Solely for Priority Mail Shipping

The boxes provided for free by the United States Postal Service (USPS) are explicitly for Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express shipping options only. This includes the flat rate boxes printed with that familiar eagle logo.

Box TypeShipping Service
Priority Mail Flat Rate Boxes (Various Sizes)Priority Mail Flat Rate Only
Priority Mail Branded Boxes (Various Sizes)Priority Mail by Weight Only

According to USPS legal guidance, it is actually a federal offense to utilize these free USPS-provided boxes for any mailing service other than these two. We‘ll get into the legal specifics shortly.

First, let‘s breakdown the differences between Priority Mail Flat Rate and basic Priority Mail.

Priority Mail Flat Rate Overview

The Flat Rate boxes, which come in small, medium, large, and other sizes, ship for the same flat price nationwide regardless of actual weight or destination. That means a Medium Flat Rate box costs $16.10 to ship whether it‘s going across town or all the way across the country! These set pricing tiers make it easier to budget for shipping costs.

Flat Rate Box TypePrice (As of 2023)
Small Flat Rate Box$9.45
Medium Flat Rate Box$16.10
Large Flat Rate Box$21.50

Priority Mail Overview

Meanwhile, basic Priority Mail boxes and packaging ship based on actual weight to whichever zone it‘s traveling to. So it will be slightly more to ship a 5 lb. package from Florida to Alaska than a 2 lb package going to the next state over. Prices start as low as $8.95 on the low end.

The main benefit of basic Priority Mail is only paying for exactly what you need – ideal for lighter packages or bulky products taking up box volume. Plus they come in some unique shapes like tubes.

The USPS Boxes Themselves Are Completely Free of Charge

To encourage more customers to utilize Priority Mail, USPS provides all related packaging totally free of cost. This includes everything from free Priority Mail tape and bubble wrap to all boxes located in post office lobbies or ordered online.

There‘s also free pickup and delivery when you order boxes via USPS.com to have supplies shipped to your house or office. In 2022, USPS reported delivering over 12 million free boxes directly to online customers this way!

So don‘t be shy about stocking up on what you need when making a trip to mail something. Those displays are meant to be picked through!

Rules and Regulations Around USPS Box Usage

Now that we‘ve clarified the "what" and "why" of Priority Mail boxes, let‘s get into the nitty gritty rules put forth by the federal government regarding usage of said boxes.

Strictly No Reusing, Altering, or Misrepresenting USPS Boxes

Due to Priority Mail‘s status as an official offering of USPS, a federal agency, there are legal penalties around misusing Priority Mail packaging. The verbiage on every USPS box makes that clear:

"For Use With Priority Mail® Service Only. Misuse May Be a Violation of Federal Law."

This "misuse" includes:

  • Reusing a Priority Mail box
  • Altering, obscuring, or removing the Priority Mail branding/logos
  • Utilizing a Priority Mail box for any non-Priority Mail shipping (e.g. FedEx, UPS, etc.)

Potential penalties, enforced by USPS Postal Inspectors, include fines up to $5,000 per item.

Official Exceptions to the Rules

However, according to the USPS Domestic Mail Manual, there are some circumstances where alternate usage or box alterations may be allowed:

  • Reusing old boxes for storage or organizational purposes – Once a Priority Mail box has served its time for actual mailing purposes, repurposing it around the house or office is A-OK.
  • Shipping hazardous materials safely – If shipping something via Priority Mail that requires hazmat labeling by DOT standards, obscuring underlying Priority Mail logos is permitted in order to properly prepare the package.
  • Adding company logos/messaging to customize Priority Mail packaging – As long as the Primary Mail branding remains intact and legible, you can place company branding elsewhere on the box. Many online retailers utilize this option.

Expert Tips for Hassle-Free USPS Box Usage

To summing things up, I wanted to provide some best practice tips, having observed thousands of customers interact with these USPS box rules over the years:

  • Stick to the appropriate box for each service – Use Flat Rate boxes only for Flat Rate shipping and regular Priority boxes for basic Priority.
  • Never reuse a box for actual shipping – Repurpose empties for home organization, but don‘t try reusing Priority Mail boxes to mail other packages.
  • Check the prices printed on Flat Rate boxes – USPS updates their pricing almost annually, so an outdated price printed could cause issues.
  • Pick up more than you need when at the post office – Take a few extra so you always have USPS boxes on hand for future Priority Mailings.

Let me know if you have any other USPS packaging questions! I‘m always happy to lend my insight as a long-time industry expert.

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