What You Should Know About Biohazard Shipping

Nov 13, 2013 | Shipping & Packaging

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shipping medical suppliesFor many people who regularly ship items, the process is fairly straightforward. They package items up, add a shipping label, and put the package in the mail to its intended recipient. The biggest concern about these packages is whether or not they’ll arrive undamaged.

But businesses and consumers who are regularly required to ship items that have been deemed “biohazards,” the process is much more complicated. The process requires compliance with several governmental regulations that protect the safety of shipping professionals, as well as recipients on the other end. Here are a few things consumers should know before they consider committing themselves to shipping hazardous materials, whether through business or simply offloading items on sites like eBay. (If you need help choosing or learning how to measure a box, check our resources)

Shipping Services

The USPS is very strict when it comes to shipping hazardous materials. The government agency clearly posts prohibited items on its website, and it’s a list employees repeat at the counter almost every time a customer ships something. “Does this shipment contain anything fragile, liquid, perishable, or potentially hazardous?” The question is intended to remove any risk, but it relies on the shipper’s honesty. It also leaves many questionable items, including

  • Fragrances—Perfumes that include alcohol are prohibited via airmail, which means they can only ship by ground transportation. International shipping of perfumes is prohibited.
  • Batteries—Lithium batteries have very specific restrictions when being shipped, including a lithium content of less than 1.0 gram per cell. If installed in equipment, batteries must be safe from short circuit and damage.
  • Drugs and Tobacco—Prescription medications can only be mailed by entities that are registered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Cigarettes, even electronic units that contain no tobacco, cannot be mailed.

Biohazard shipping

How to Ship

With so many restrictions, how does a business work around them if they specialize in the very products that are bad? UPS works with consumers to answer questions and find a workaround, when one is available, through its UPS Hazardous Material Support Center.

In addition to prohibitions on hazardous items, consumers must also be mindful of how to pack those materials that are allowed. Items must be packed in a secure primary container that fully prevents leaking and outer containers must be clearly marked that the item is for “Surface Mail Only.”

It’s more important than ever, with potentially hazardous materials, that those shipping them use the sturdiest shipping materials available, along with appropriate packing materials to properly secure all items inside the package.

During the mailstream, if the shipping company deems any item to be unsafe, whether through leaking or another method of discovery, that shipping company has the right to remove that item from the shipping process. For this reason, it’s important that businesses take every measure possible to determine an item is mailable and properly secure it before taking it to a shipping company for mailing.


biohazard packing


It will be most beneficial for businesses to determine the mailability of an item before beginning the process of working with it. A shipping plan should be in place early in the process, whether that process is through the USPS, UPS, FedEx, or a courier service that carries it from one side of the country to another. Pre-planning can prevent a business from learning after an item is due to go in the mail that traditional shipping companies won’t accept that type of shipment.

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