What happens if you put non-local mail in the "local" USPS mailbox?
July 12, 2007 7:44 AM   Subscribe

What happens if you put non-local mail in the "local" USPS mailbox?

I have two letters that I recently mailed whose destinations are a few states away. I accidentally dropped them in the post office box that was labeled for local mail - delivery to a region defined by the two nearest zip codes. What happens now? Hopefully it just takes a little bit longer for the mail system to sort out those letters. They aren't just going to vanish into some black hole, right?
posted by bangitliketmac to Grab Bag (8 answers total)
A friend's dad who worked at the post office said those differing slots were just to keep one from filling up. I wouldn't worry about it, unless your post office is as horrible as mine.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:47 AM on July 12, 2007

I've done this before, its not a big deal. It will still make it to its destination.
posted by fallenposters at 8:13 AM on July 12, 2007

I accidentally dropped some regular mail into the "express mail" box once, and I haven't had collection agencies come after me yet. I don't think it'll be a problem.
posted by LionIndex at 8:59 AM on July 12, 2007

Don't sweat it -- I'm sure that in the long history of the postal system, you aren't the first person to have made this error.

They aren't just going to vanish into some black hole, right?
Well, you run that risk even if you put them into the correct slot.
posted by puritycontrol at 9:26 AM on July 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

It is possible that the out-of-town locations will now suddenly be in your town. A mistake of just this sort is why the Bronx shifted to Florida in 1956.

When the local mail gets sorted, yours will be thrown in with the non-local mail. Often these exist because the non-local mail is sent to a different facility for sorting. You might have delayed the delivery by a day.
posted by MarkAnd at 9:33 AM on July 12, 2007 [4 favorites]

In every post office I've visited, I have always checked if the two slots have different destinations. (I'm OCD like that. I check mini-golf holes to make sure they won't steal my ball, too.)

Without fail, local and non-local mail drop into the same bin.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:58 AM on July 12, 2007

I think that the "Local" and "Out-of-town" slots are a relic of when local post offices used to do a lot more of their own sorting.

Now, this is rare. Chances are, ALL the outgoing mail in your local pipsqueak postoffice is taken to a big sorting facility where it's run through a machine to look at the addresses, cancel the stamps, barcode it, etc. (If it's a big post office, it's possible that the sorting is done on-site, but from what I understand, most of the sorting takes place in big warehousey buildings which are generally not the same thing as your walk-up post offices.)

Then the mail will come back from the sorting facility to the destination post office, all nicely sorted by ZIP+4, and go out for delivery.

This is why, for instance, when I used to live in central Maine, all of my mail (even if I was just sending it to a neighbor), got hauled down to Portland, postmarked there, and then hauled back up the next day for delivery. They didn't sort anything at the local PO.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:06 PM on July 12, 2007

I second the "historical relic" theory.

I asked the postmaster this very question back when I was in 6th grade. He explained that at the end of the day (sometimes more than once a day), they took the "local mail" bin and sorted all of the mail into the post office boxes or delivery route bins. The non-local mail got sent down to $BigCity where it was sorted and sent on its way. So even stuff that was going to the next town over went to $BigCity first and then got sent to the correct town the next day. But local mail was fast, sometimes even same-day fast for P.O. box holders. (My mom still has a P.O. Box because the post office didn't deliver mail to our street when we first moved to $SmallTown.)

In early 2003 I went into the same post office to check the mail, and a post office worker was taping up the local mail slot. New regulations required them to send *all* mail to $BigCity where it could be run through the sorting machines / anthrax detectors / secret government mail reading machines / [insert conspiracy theory here].

It makes me sad. Before 9-11 they used to leave the post office lobby (where the post office boxes were) open 24-7. So you could check your mailbox any time of night. It was lit and heated in the winter so you could take the dog for a walk at 1:00 a.m. during a snowstorm, get to the post office, tie it up outside (husky dog) and warm up, get the mail, untie the dog, and walk home. Now? Not a chance! The whole building closes at 5:30 so if you work late you're screwed.
posted by the_W at 11:36 PM on July 12, 2007

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