Have you ever wondered where all the lost letters and packages go? Lost items are a relatively common occurrence with any country’s postal system, and the United States is no different. Most people have lost a package or letter at least once in their life, for a variety of different reasons. However, some letters and parcels never even make it back to their senders! The US Postal Service classifies these items as “dead mail,” and most of it ends up at the Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, Georgia. This under-the-radar USPS facility solely focuses on returning dead mail back to the people who sent it!
What is Dead Mail?
The unofficial definition of “dead mail” is any letter or parcel that USPS can’t figure out who it’s supposed to go to. There’s a number of reasons why USPS classifies certain mail as “dead.” For instance, maybe the package doesn’t contain a shipping label, or maybe part of the label has been ripped off. Maybe an undeliverable letter doesn’t contain a proper return address. Maybe no name appears on a package at all. Whatever the case, the Postal Service funnels all of the dead mail they come across to the Mail Recovery Center.
The Mail Recovery Center (MRC)
Somewhere in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, the Mail Recovery Center exists in plain sight. It was formerly known as the “Dead Letter Office,” and we think the new name sounds a bit better, ourselves.
You may have never heard of the Mail Recovery Center, but they stay quite busy. According to a 2015 report given by the Inspector General, 88 million dead mail items came through the door in the fiscal year 2014. However, only 2.5 million of those items ever made it back to their original sender. That number represents less than a 3% return rate, which begs the question: what happens to all the rest of it?
USPS Auctions off Unclaimed Dead Mail Items via GovDeals
When it comes to those other 97% of dead mail items, it is perfectly for legal for USPS to auction off anything that hasn’t been claimed within a few months. A private company known as GovDeals manages all of these auctions, which occur online. GovDeals hosts auctions roughly every two weeks, and they receive all their items from—you guessed it—the Mail Recovery Center. Potential bidders can also visit GovDeal’s warehouse in Atlanta to inspect merchandise, though GovDeals strictly prohibits all cell phone activity.
According to the same report by the Inspector General we linked to above, USPS profited $11 million from all the dead mail items sold off in fiscal year 2014. However, considering USPS suffered a $3.9 billion loss in 2018, $11 million is just a mere drop in the bucket.