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Business

March 24, 2013

Atlanta: Where undeliverable mail goes to be resold

ATLANTA — There are the book people, the jewelry people, the movie people, the electronics people. They greet each other with knowing nods as they inspect the goods inside a cavernous warehouse on the west side of Atlanta that is the end of the line for undeliverable mail.

Once a month the United States Postal Service auctions off the valuable stuff it cannot deliver at Atlanta’s Mail Recovery Center. But at a time of rapid change for the Postal Service, last month’s live auction was one of the last. The Postal Service is contracting out the auctions and moving them all online as soon as April.

GovDeals, the contractor, says expanding the pool of bidders beyond those who could show up in Atlanta will bring in more money for the cash-strapped Postal Service. The semi-private institution loses $25 million per day, according to Congressional testimony by Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.

It recently announced plans to stop delivering first-class mail on Saturdays to save money.

Just as the age of email has transformed letter delivery, so has the age of eBay changed the ways of what was founded in 1917 as the “Dead Parcel Post” office. The Atlanta Mail Recovery Center is now the only such facility in the nation, with a mission to seek out, recover and return mail that cannot be delivered.

It is the only place where USPS personnel are allowed to open your mail, as employees sift through it for clues to the rightful owner’s identity. In 2011 — the most recent year for which figures were available —the MRC handled 53.4 million pieces of mail, 10.6 million of which had possible value.

It was able to deliver 43 percent of the mail, while the rest was recycled, given to charity or sorted for auction — after a 90-day waiting period in which the owner could state a claim.

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