WASHINGTON (WRCB) — The U.S. Postal Service picks up, processes and delivers millions of letters and packages every day. In order for that to happen, it relies heavily on mail transport equipment (MTE) — flat tubs, pallets, trays and mailbags.

This equipment is essential in accepting, sorting and moving mail within the processing network and is extremely expensive to replace. As a rule of thumb, the Postal Service suggests that no more than a seven-day supply of MTE remains on hand.

Unfortunately, there are many instances where the equipment is never returned by customers who sometimes use the containers for personal use.

The Postal Service will spend $120 million this year to replace missing and damaged MTE. It has become a serious issue because the Postal Service can no longer afford to replace equipment that belongs to them in the first place.

MTE is federal property. Anyone caught stealing or misusing it can be fined $1,000 and face up to three years in prison.

The Postal Service is urging customers to return its equipment — no questions asked. The equipment can be returned to local Post Offices or to processing and distribution facilities.

Arrangements also can be made for the Postal Service to pick up larger amounts of equipment and/or pallets by sending an email to hqmte@usps.gov with "Equipment Pickup Request" in the subject line. Please include the company name and address where equipment is located, the type of equipment and quantity, and a contact name and phone number.

To report the misuse of equipment, such as hoarding or recycling, customers are urged to call the MTE hotline — (866) 330-3404.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.