As announced this week within a press release, the United States Postal Service is banning shipment of devices using lithium batteries to anyone residing overseas starting on May 16. This includes a wide range of devices such as laptop computers, tablets, smartphones, handheld gaming systems, GPS devices, digital cameras, bluetooth headsets, radio controlled toys, portable shavers, standalone MP3 players and e-readers. While this ban doesn’t apply to shipments of devices with lithium batteries domestically, consumers looking for a low cost method to send these devices to American troops overseas as well as anyone in another country will be out of luck.
The ban on shipments of these devices is a response to a consistent string of plane crashes that are attributed to spontaneous combustion of lithium batteries. According to Bloomberg, these types of incidents bring down “an average of one U.S.-registered cargo jet every other year.”
Since lithium batteries burn at such a high temperature, it only takes one battery to explode in order to ignite all the other batteries within a shipment. The batteries also continue to burn, even after being suppressed with a halon fire-suppression system. The halon can prevent the fire caused by rechargeable lithium batteries from spreading to other portions of the cargo, but non-rechargeable lithium battery fires cannot be contained by halon.
The USPS set these new guidelines into place due to new restrictions created by the International Civil Aviation Organization and the Universal Postal Union. According to the new restrictions, lithium batteries are not being allowed on international commercial air transportation, but will be allowed on non-commercial air transportation like cargo planes. Since the USPS utilizes international commercial air transportation to ship packages overseas, they have to halt all shipments of devices using lithium batteries. This doesn’t effect companies like UPS or FedEx as both companies have an international fleet of cargo planes to transport these packages.
Americans looking for an inexpensive way to send packages to loved ones stationed overseas will be forced to use a private shipment company at a much higher cost. UPS, DHL and FedEx don’t ship directly to APO, FPO, or DPO addresses. While FedEx and UPS both have systems in place to reach military addresses with a partnership with the USPS, packages sent through a system like FedEx SmartPost are likely subject to the same restrictions.
UPS or FedEx packages could be sent to a civilian mailing address in a particular country, but it would still cost considerably more than military mail through the USPS. The USPS also runs the risk of consumers that lie about what’s inside a package in order to get the cheaper rate to send a lithium battery device to a member of the military.
According to the USPS, these restrictions are expected to be eased on January 1, 2013. The organization believes that consumers will be able to ship a limited amount of devices using lithium batteries, assuming that the battery is already installed in the device. The Australia Post has similar restrictions on shipping devices using lithium batteries overseas, a policy that went into effect during July 2009.