|Lesson 1: Selecting an Appropriate Box
If you have the occasion to employ the services of a shipping company it is because A) someone bought something from you, B) you bought something from somebody else, or C) you need to move something of yours to someplace else. In any of these cases we can make the assumption that whatever is being shipped is of enough value to warrant having it moved from one place to another. In cases A and B it is because there is a customer involved as well as an exchange of money. In case C you have something which is of enough value to prevent you from simply throwing it away.
Since we can safely assume that the item(s) being shipped are worth something (after all you are paying to have them shipped) is it really wise to be cheap with the packaging? The box is the only thing protecting your junk from the likes of me and my associates, the miles of conveyor belts, mechanical sorting machines, and the dirty bellies of overnight transport trucks. Not to mention the sweat, spit (occasionally blood) and broken (sometimes liquid) contents of other packages that have taken one for the team.
With this in mind, the selection of a box must be taken seriously. There are several factors to consider: size, shape, and rigidity. During its travels, your box will be subject to a number of compression, impact and sheer forces. A sturdy box is your best, and really only, defense.
The box should preferably be new; though a sturdy used box will also suffice (I don't want to encourage a flippant attitude towards our forests). Each face of the box should be solid. There should be no rips, bends, large perforations, or holes. All of the flaps should be present and complete. The box should be able to maintain its shape independent of its cargo. You may think these seem like obvious, common sense, suggestions, but I assure you that some folks out there need reminding.
If you're shipping a liquid, use a bucket (which you may then put in a box, if you so choose) or other container designed for transporting liquid. Do not put the liquid in a sack, and then proceed to place that sack in a box. An unfortunate incident with Italian salad dressing comes to my mind. Liquids are not appropriate for boxes for a number of reasons. For starters, they puncture easily and spill their contents. Two, they compromise the box's structural integrity. Three, they make it awkward to move the boxes because the weight shifts and the box bends. Four, it's just plain stupid.
In regards to size, the box should be big enough to contain your cargo without bulging, yet small enough so as to prevent wild and uncontrollable shifts to the center of gravity. If there is a dramatic shift in weight, I'm liable to drop the box rather than hazard a blow to the head or a twist in the back. Whatever is inside should fit snugly. There should be no rattling or sliding. When the box is full, it should be the same size and shape as it is when empty. Bulging boxes are hard to move, hard to stack, and frequently bust at the seams. And sometimes, if your box isn't square, I'll make it square. There is always something heavier.
If your box is too big, and the contents are loose, it will be crushed. The seams will implode, and all your precious cargo will come spilling out. This might happen when it slams into other boxes in the conveyor system or it might happen when some poor kid, stuck in a trailer, is fighting for his life against an avalanche of boxes he's trying to load as fast as he can. Either way, it will happen. When your box reaches its final destination, it will resemble an accordion. "Light" boxes are not set aside and loaded last, or on top. Heavy boxes are not always on the bottom. Boxes are loaded as they come. Oh, that reminds me: marking your box as "Fragile" means nothing. There is no separate "Fragile" sorter. Fragile boxes are not loaded last or on top. Don't delude yourself. At best, they avoid the conveyor system, but still end up with everything else the truck. In most cases, marking your box as fragile will not subject it to extra abuse. We're not jerks; we're just short on time.
Also, do not tape additional pieces of freight to the outside of your box. For example, if you are shipping a broom, don't put the head in a box, and then tape the handle to the outside of that box. It doesn't trick anybody into thinking the box is small. Do not tape an envelope to the side of your box. It will get ripped off. The solution: throw whatever doesn't fit into another box or just ship it separately.
Also to note: Do not attempt to join a number of differently sized and weighted boxes together with plastic straps. The boxes twist around, the straps slide off or break, and the thing is impossible to stack. When the straps break they often leave behind orphaned, labelless boxes that have been separated from there traveling buddies.
It is important to note that one should not, however, go overboard. The occasional painting, artifact, or precision milled fitting warrants the use of a wooden box, however, most packages do not. Anything encased in wood is not only a chore to move, but also requires special handling. And frankly, it's a splinter hazard.
It is indeed a tricky decision to find the right box, and some folks do have trouble with it. I once found a sheet of plate glass packaged only in a wooden frame which was held on by plastic straps. Clearly the person in charge of packing this piece of glass was not exceptionally bright. Really now, how did they expect me to move that? I was afraid to even touch it. Let alone load it onto a cart a haul it over to a load door. I've moved boxes with so much broken glass in them they sounded like rain sticks.
Lesson 2: Tape
Tape is cheap, it is your friend. A box is nothing without tape. Flap folding, however intricate or well-meaning is not an ample substitute for tape. Fold your flaps down and tape them. Use tape, please. Straps - tight straps mind you - are to be used in conjunction with tape, not instead of.
Tape each seam thoroughly, and make a reasonable effort to at least get the tape over the seam. If the majority of the tape rests on one side of the flap, with just a sliver reaching over to the other the other side, you've done something wrong. Ask a friend for help.
Tape all sides of the box that have flaps. Some folks seem to feel that taping just the bottom is enough, because they seem to believe that their box will always travel in the same orientation. This is not the case. Your bottom just may be my top while I'm playing a game of 3D Cargo Tetris.
Many problems result from under-taping. There is no such thing as "too much tape." Make sure the tape is fully attached. A dangling loose end is easily ripped off. I can't tell you the number of times I've picked up a box and tossed it on the belt, only to have the tape stick to my hands and tear away from the box. Loose ends can also get stuck to other boxes leading to similar results.
Lession 3: Labeling
Labeling your box is also important. After all, it is the label that lets us know where your junk is headed. There are many types of labels, and many choices to make when printing out, writing, and attaching the label. I'll try to cover the basics here.
To begin with, whatever your method of production, the label must be clear and easy to read. Labels that are difficult to read are subject to misinterpretation. If your four looks like a nine, your box may end up in the wrong state. And guess who cares? Not me and not the guy loading the truck. There is not time to hem and haw over details, or go ask another thrower for assistance in deciphering your hand-writing.
Of all the pieces of information contained on a label, the zip code and state/province are the most important (next to any machine readable barcodes); this is your package's primary router. If possible the zip code and state should be prominent, and in larger print than the rest of the address. Even after machines sort things, throwers often need to sort or check by zip code and state. In some smaller terminals all sorting is done by hand.
Label placement is also very important. Your label should be placed on the top of your package or opposite the package's heaviest side. That is, as your box is being shuffled along, the label should tend to naturally rise to the top.
Do not fold labels around corners. It makes them hard to find, hard to scan, and generally hard to deal with. You're not being clever or innovative.
If your label is of the adhesive variety, take extra care in attaching it. A wrinkled label ruins any machine readable signs. A barcode missing bars is a bad barcode.
Taping your label down is a good idea, even if it is of the adhesive variety. Remember that talk earlier about dangling ends of tape catching on things? Well, that's just the sort of thing that will rip a label right off.
Unless your box is making some sort of bizarre around the world trip, it usually needs only one label. If your reusing a box, take off the old labels, or make sure they are covered up. Handlers look for labels because that's how boxes are scanned and sorted. If your box is covered in old, useless labels, finding the right one becomes more difficult, resulting in more jostling, spinning, and general rough-handling. It might also be thrown aside and saved for last.
Two final notes about labels: First, labels are not tape. Do not use the label to join flaps or in any other way seal the box. Second, if you're shipping something UPS, us a UPS label. If you're shipping something FedEx, use a FedEx label. Yes, it does make a difference. You'd be surprised how many people get this wrong.
Hazardous Materials Service Definition
UPS accepts hazardous materials on a contract basis only. UPS accepts non-bulk quantities of hazardous materials shipments for transport by "highway and rail" or "air" modes when prepared in accordance with the Department of Transportation Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR). "Air" modes include UPS Next Day Air, UPS 2nd Day Air and UPS 3 Day Select. This UPS Guide for Shipping Ground and Air Hazardous Materials should always be used in conjunction with the most current HMR as documented in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (49 CFR).
You, as the shipper, may ship specific hazardous materials in specific quantities as outlined in the chemical table as long as you fully comply with all governmental regulations and UPS variations.
In many cases, UPS requirements are more restrictive than those of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). UPS "conditions incident to transportation" differ from those of other systems due to our unique method for sorting, handling, and moving packages. UPS only accepts hazardous materials shipments from customers that follow these variations.
UPS transports hazardous materials only within and between the 50 United States and Puerto Rico. Hazardous Materials Contract Service is available for customers with a daily pickup account. You, as the shipper, must complete all requirements for the hazardous materials shipment before pickup. Contact your local UPS Business Development Department for qualification and approval information. UPS does not accept hazardous materials shipments at UPS Customer Counters, Air Service Centers, Air Letter Centers, Authorized Shipping Outlets, commercial counters, or using Internet shipping (except for ground shipments of ORM-D material).
The Hazardous Materials Service handling charge applies to all hazardous materials packages that require a UPS Shipping Paper.
Time-in-transit guarantees do not apply to hazardous materials packages that are delayed due to causes beyond the carrier´s control or acts of God. Further, no guarantee applies to hazardous materials packages that are improperly offered for transport.
UPS Carrier Variations
As a UPS hazardous materials contract customer, you must process your hazardous materials shipments using a UPS compliant shipping solution in conjunction with hazardous materials shipment preparation software or another solution to electronically transmit hazardous materials data to UPS. Customers who do not comply cannot ship hazardous materials packages using UPS.
Class 5 hazardous materials (Oxidizers and Organic Peroxides) are not accepted in any UPS Air Service. This applies to primary and subsidiary risk.
Hazardous materials shipments authorized for non-specification packaging that require a shipping paper must be in outer packages at the following minimum levels (this also includes overpacks).
All packages must meet the requirements of International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) Procedure 1A testing
Packages weighing no more than 20 lbs. must be in a minimum 200 lbs. Burst Strength or 32 Edge Crush Test (ECT) certified box
Packages weighing over 20 lbs. must be in a minimum 275 lbs. Burst Strength or 44 ECT certified box
Any non-specification package that displays the ISTA seal indicating the package has been tested and certified to ISTA Procedure 1A is not subject to the minimum ECT or burst strength requirements
With the exception of shipments containing dry ice, hazardous materials packages must not exceed 70 lbs. gross weight. Lower limits apply to certain materials.
UPS does not accept certain hazardous materials in its Ground or Air Services. See the chemical table for details.
UPS will not accept the use of a "TOXIC" or "POISON" label on packages containing Division 6.1, Packing Group III materials. We require the use of a Division 6.1 label with "PG III" on the label and no other text.
UPS may restrict specific hazardous materials to a defined maximum outer package or inner receptacle capacity.
UPS accepts only "Passenger Aircraft Quantities" of hazardous materials offered for transport in UPS Air Services. All air shipments of Classes 4 and 8 packing group (PG) III must be in packaging tested to PG II when they are in UN packagings.
The DOT’s exceptions for combustible liquids do not apply for any air shipments in the UPS system.
UPS does not permit the use of the exception (49 CFR 173.308) for cigarette lighters or similar devices. To be transported in the UPS system, these devices must be fully declared. They require shipping papers, proper packaging, marking, and labeling.
UPS does not permit "Limited Quantity" exceptions to be used for PG I hazardous materials or materials required to be in "Exemption" packaging.
UPS requires shippers to affix an authorized UPS Shipping Paper to each hazardous material package and to complete an entry in the UPS Shipper’s Certification of Hazardous Materials for each package. A hard copy of the Shipper’s Certification must still be given to the UPS driver, even though you electronically submitted the data to UPS.
UPS requires that all packages, including hazardous materials, be capable of meeting the requirements of the ISTA Procedure 1A testing protocol, as well as the applicable specification and performance requirements of 49 CFR parts 173 and 178.
UPS requires the proper shipping name and identification number (if one is assigned) be marked on all packages containing hazardous materials.
Hazardous materials may not be shipped in UPS-provided packaging, such as Letters, Paks, and Tubes.
UPS accepts only non-bulk packagings of hazardous materials not exceeding the manufacturer’s specifications on the packagings.
Packages must not be banded, taped or strapped together.
Shippers must comply with DOT requirements for performance-oriented packaging unless a specific exception in the DOT rules applies. Hazardous materials offered in authorized single packagings must be overcartoned for safety.
UPS requires the use of DOT exemption packaging for many materials including all Class 6.1 PG I or II and Division 4.3 materials. Materials of Class 6.1 PG III must also be shipped in DOT exemption packaging when offered for Air Service. See the chemical table for specific materials. A copy of the DOT exemption paperwork must be placed in a resealable pouch on the package(s). UPS does not allow DOT exemption packaging to be overpacked or overcartoned.
UPS requires orientation markings on all shipments of liquid hazardous materials regardless of DOT exceptions.
Packages of materials that are noxious, extremely annoying, or cause discomfort should be offered to UPS only in an acceptable "stench" package as described in this guide.
Any non-specification package that displays the ISTA seal indicating the package has been tested and certified to ISTA Procedure 1A is not subject to the minimum ECT or burst strength requirements.
A packing group is not required for materials classed as an explosive. In the UPS Guide a black diamond appears in the packing group column. This indicates that a shipping paper for these materials could display a Packing Group II or the shipping paper could have no packing group.
In accordance with DOT Docket HM-215D, UPS will allow the display of the hazard class or division number in the lower corner of a subsidiary hazard label. UPS will also allow a subsidiary hazard label without the hazard class or division number displayed in the lower corner as allowed by DOT until October 1, 2005.
DOT Docket HM-215E
UPS has evaluated the regulatory changes put forth in DOT Docket HM-215E. The appropriate changes and additions have been made to the UPS Chemical Table. Separate tables are provided for "Additions," "Revisions," and "Deletions."
Air Hazardous Materials Service
"Air" modes include UPS Next Day Air, UPS 2nd Day Air, and UPS 3 Day Select. UPS Air Hazardous Materials Service provides delivery of hazardous materials in passenger aircraft quantities to every address in the 48 contiguous states, Alaska, metropolitan areas of Hawaii, and Puerto Rico in both UPS Next Day Air and UPS 2nd Day Air Service. Pickup service is restricted in some areas of Alaska. Refer to the following table for more detail.
Prohibited Hazardous Materials
Packages bearing these labels are PROHIBITED from transportation in the UPS system.
The word "Toxic" may appear in the place of "Poison."
All Class 1 Explosives are PROHIBITED from the Air system except Division 1.4 Compatibility Group "S".
All dangerous goods/hazardous materials requiring Declarations for Dangerous Goods or Shipping Papers are PROHIBITED from the UPS Return Services.
If you have any questions about shipping hazardous materials with UPS, please call the UPS Hazardous Materials Support Center at 1-800-554-9964.
Also please visit:
To view the responsibilities of ANYONE shipping a hazardous material through ANY parcels system not just UPS.