Your Mail Will Self Destruct in 3-2-1…

Every year, the US Postal Service handles approximately 1.4 billion pieces of letter mail marked “Undeliverable as Addressed – Return to Sender”. A new program aims to reduce the environmental impact of all those letters currently getting routed and delivered back to their points of origin. USPS Blue Earth® Secure Destruction is up and running now to not only help the environment but also protect the private information often contained in First Class business mail.

Mailers who sign up for Secure Destruction authorize the USPS to automatically intercept and destroy mail that would otherwise be delivered back to them. The Postal Service transports the undelivered mail to a secure USPS facility where postal employees shred it, meeting national and international standards for document destruction. Shredded pieces are then recycled as part of the Postal Service’s massive recycling program. The USPS estimates they prevent 1 metric ton of CO2 equivalent from entering the atmosphere for every 25,000 pieces of Return to Sender mail they destroy.

Secure Destruction notifies enrolled mailers daily about destroyed pieces. They can still use the returned data to research individual cases, correct their mailing records, and reprint the documents if they wish – without handling the undeliverable mail piece again.

Why would a mailer sign up for this program? Well, besides doing something that is easy and good for the environment, think about the internal workflow for dealing with returned mail:

  • Pick up the pieces at the Post Office and return them to the mail center
  • Have corporate mail clerks hand-sort the returned letters, attempting to match mail to the department responsible for sending them
  • Deliver returned mail to responsible departments via internal courier
  • Departments open returned mail and do research to determine which database includes each undeliverable address
  • Envelopes and contents are dropped into (hopefully) locked bins awaiting secure recycling for which the organization pays

Lower Risk of Privacy Breach

Also of importance, especially to mailers of documents containing private health or financial data, is the increased risk of exposure as undeliverable mail is routed and transported back to the mailer or handled internally by the sending company. The mailer could be responsible for violating provisions of legislation such as HIPAA. Secure Destruction eliminates the risk of employee mis-handling, for which the organization could be liable.

The program is controlled by values in the Intelligent Mail barcode. Mailers taking advantage of the program will make some modifications to add a Secure Destruction Type ID, chosen from a list of valid entries supplied by the USPS, to their barcodes.

Letter size First Class Full Service or Basic mail bearing Intelligent Mail barcodes are eligible for the Blue Earth® Secure Destruction program. Mailers will also need an ACS (Address Correction Service) account and must submit an enrollment form to the US Postal Service. There is no fee to apply for participation in the program.

If your organization produces First Class letter mail and is struggling through a labor-intensive workflow to handle undeliverable pieces, or you are concerned about exposing private customer information to unauthorized people, you might give this new program from the US Postal Service a try. To learn more, download a PDF containing the USPS FAQ’s at

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