LOVELOCK - With 15 billion cards, letters and packages expected to be delivered this holiday season, the U.S. Postal Service has some tips to help get gifts to their destinations swiftly and safely.

The Postal Service offers free, environmentally friendly Priority Mail and Express Mail boxes and envelopes. These supplies can be ordered at or picked up at a local post office.

Helpful packaging tips:

•Make sure packages are able to withstand processing without the contents or packaging breaking.

•Cushion items with bubble wrap, newspaper or foam peanuts so they do not shift during transit.

•Wrap each item separately when packing more than one item in the same box.

•Remove batteries from electronic devices and wrap separately.

•Close and shake the box to see if there is enough cushioning. If items are shifting, add more cushioning.

•When re-using a box make sure previous labels and markings are covered before mailing.

•Mark "perishable" on packages that contain food or other items that can spoil.

•Place an extra address label with the delivery and return address inside the package. This ensures the safe return of an item that could not be delivered should the outside label become damaged or fall off.

•Always use tape designed for sealing shipping boxes. Do not use string, cellophane and masking tape to seal packages.

•Packages can weigh up to 70 pounds and measure up to 130 inches in combined length and width. Make sure the width is measured around the largest point of the package.

 Guidelines for addressing envelopes and packages:

•Print complete address clearly. Use the proper ZIP code. ZIP codes can be found at or by calling 1-800-ASK-USPS (275-8777).

•Print the delivery and return addresses on the same side of the envelope or package.

•Always use a return address. It tells the Postal Service where to return mail if it cannot be delivered.

The Postal Service recommends the following mail-by dates to ensure your gift arrives on time:

•Friday, Dec. 20: First Class Mail and Priority Mail

•Monday, Dec. 23: Express Mail

Because of security requirements, packages bearing postage stamps that weigh more than 13 ounces must be presented to a retail associate at the Post Office and cannot be dropped in blue collection boxes.