The Styrofoam Cube In This Letter Serves A Bureaucratic Purpose

When Chris opened a letter from the Indiana Election Division, he was curious why in the world there would be a small Styrofoam cube inside the envelope. Luckily for everyone involved, there was an explanation.

Written on a strip of paper packed with the letter was the following declaration:

The Styrofoam cube enclosed in this envelope is being included by the sender to meet a United States Postal Service regulation. This regulation requires a first class letter or flat using the Delivery or Signature Confirmation service to become a parcel and that it “is in a box or, if not in a box, is more than 3/4 of an inch thick at its thickest point.” The cube has no other purpose and may be disposed of upon opening this correspondence.

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  1. RWD_V8 says:

    I had an ex with similar demands

  2. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    So first class parcel delivery confirmation is cheaper than certified mail, but they have to make it meet the definition of a parcel…

    Good thinking. Now maybe the USPS can make delivery confirmation available to 1st class letters and cut the waste.

  3. Andy Dufresne says:

    Typical union shenanigans.

  4. Cat says:

    Missing from letter:

    “Warning: Styrofoam Cube. Do Not Eat.”

    • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

      “Do not cram this cube up one nostril, hold the other one shut, and then forget that you can breathe through your mouth.”

      “Do not taunt Happy Fun Cube.”

      I would have had SO much fun getting fired over this if I worked for the Indiana Election Division.

    • misterfweem says:

      I ate mine.

    • MJDickPhoto says:

      this styrofoam block known to cause cancer in the state of California.

    • Mr. Bill says:

      Just add cheese power and have a homemade cheese ball or cube.

  5. jp7570-1 says:

    Another example of unfathomable policies associated with USPS. If they truly want to resolve their financial woes, there are many ways to cut and streamline. USPS may never compete with email but there should be a viable way for them to provide delivery services without this sort of nonsense.

    • vastrightwing says:

      How about this? Do not buy dated postage and attempt to use it on a date after the stamp. They won’t take it. I found out the hard way that sending a self addressed postage paid envelope with a printed stamp won’t work! Why? Postal regulations. If the postage has a date on it, you better send it that day or else!

      • Karita says:

        Interesting. I’ve always used stamps.com at work to print out return envelopes. I’ve often wondered about the dates on them, but I’ve never had an issue in the 3 or 4 years we’ve been using the service.

        • vastrightwing says:

          I also discovered that depends on who happens to see the stamp. My guess is that 90% of the time, no one will notice, but if they do….

        • Jack SprattSparrowSkellington says:

          if you have a stamp machine, certain styles will let you set the date to “null” or just read zeros

    • RvLeshrac says:

      What the hell? Do you not understand what the “financial woes” of the USPS are? They’re making *PLENTY* of money. They just, like every single other company on the planet, aren’t making enough to pay for an entire decade of pensions for every single employee they currently have-at one time.

    • Tangurena says:

      Those “unfathomable policies” are pronounced CONGRESS.

  6. longfeltwant says:

    They won’t get a signature on a flat envelope? That’s strange. I really thought I’d done exactly that with tax returns. Either I remember wrong, or I don’t understand what is going on here.

    • KyBash says:

      Don’t quote me, but I think it has to be registered or certified if it’s only an envelope and you want a signature.

      • samonela says:

        You see, my dear, all certified mail is registered… but registered mail is not necessarily certified.

        And I’ll tell you a little secret about zip codes: They’re meaningless.

        **peels out laughing manically**

    • sponica says:

      I remember in the way back when I used to be able to get delivery confirmation on letter sent first class….now if I want delivery confirmation on a letter, I have to send it priority.

    • trentblase says:

      As someone who’s been on the receiving end of many stuck-together envelopes, I don’t find it that strange.

  7. Coffee says:

    I’m sure somewhere there’s a lobbyist for Big Styrofoam, laughing his ass off and tilting his glass of scotch to his colleagues

    • Wasp is like Requiem for a Dream without the cheery bits says:

      *Lowers glass. Gives stink-eye.*

      Really? Is this on topic?

    • JennyCupcakes misses her grandson says:

      It’s totally okay! You can microwave it!

    • cleek says:

      “glass of scotch” ?

      no Styrofoam magnate worth his interconnected styrene monomers would use anything but a Styrofoam cup!

      • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

        Well, to be fair, that’s kind of like saying no McDonald’s magnate worth his interconnected styrene monomers would eat anything other than McDonald’s.

  8. Amp says:

    You know who else was into regulations and cube distribution/disposal?

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/bf/Glados.png

    • Taliskan says:

      I drew a heart on mine and now it’s my best friend. I love you 3/4″ thick companion cube.

      • huadpe says:

        Are you going to put it into an Aperture Science Emergency Incinerator now? You monster.

        • Taliskan says:

          Although the disposal process is remarkably painful, 8 out of 10 Indiana Election Division engineers believe that the styrofoam cube is most likely incapable of
          feeling much pain.

          Thank you for helping us help you help us all.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes discussion of the evolution of the Companion Cube; apparently they wanted to design a level where you had to carry one of the weighted storage cubes around with you to help you through the puzzles, but people kept forgetting about it, and then getting stumped.

      So they made a special cube so that we would remember… the rest is history.

  9. jackbishop says:

    The Indiana Election Division reminds you that the styrofoam cube cannot speak. In the event that the styrofoam cube does speak, the Indiana Election Division urges you to disregard its advice.

    • Coles_Law says:

      If the cube could speak- which Indiana Electric assures you it cannot-it would tell you it would hate to be a burden and will happily sacrifice itself to aid your forward progress.

    • Taliskan says:

      Although the disposal process is remarkably painful, 8 out of 10 Indiana Election Division engineers believe that the styrofoam cube is most likely incapable of
      feeling much pain.

    • Kung Foo says:

      Rest assured that an independent panel of ethicists has absolved the Indiana Election Division, related bureaucrats, and all corresponding subjects for all moral responsibility for the styrofoam cube euthanizing process.

  10. AEN says:

    Maybe package delivery confirmation is cheaper than letter delivery confirmation?

    • Jacob says:

      The point is there is no way to have “Delivery Confirmation” on a First Class letter (or flat). “Delivery Confirmation” is only available on packages. Paying the package rate for a letter doesn’t count either.

      I suspect that letters (or flats) are processed through equipment that doesn’t scan the barcode for the delivery confirmation system. Only if your letter is really a package and doesn’t fit through the equipment that processes letters does it go through the package system which does scan the barcodes.

  11. coreydean says:

    Had this problem with USPS all the time. Sending items sold on ebay in a flat bubble mailer with delivery confirmation and I had to stick something in it to make it 3/4 of an inch thick. I used styrofoam peanuts, a bunched up plastic grovery bag. The only thing this accomplished was to now make what I was mailing, not machine sortable and made a bulkier item for the mailman to deliver. Didn’t cost me more postage either. Made no sense. Still doesn’t. I know that USPS has some problems and some of that are illogical rules like the one above, but most of their problem has been congress dipping in to their pension plan for funds and making them pre-pay pension premiums so they can get their hands on more.

  12. PLATTWORX says:

    This has always been a pain.

    As somone who mails alot of first class envelopes and packages that need some proof of receipt, the USPS has long insisted that they have to be 3/4″ thick or they won’t put delivery confirmation on them.

    I think someone has decided that even though they charge for DC…. allowing it on thinner envelopes will cause people to stop using certified mail. Forget that when they sell 10 times the delivery confirmations than they do now for certified and probably make more money.

    Making senders put little styrofoam cubes in envelopes doesn’t stop them from mailing letters with DC. It’s silly.

    In any event, after finding ways to make my first class with DC 3/4″ thick I decided to risk it and mailed them flat. Sure enough, 95% of them fly right though with no questions. Maybe once or twice a year I will get one back have to make it thicker and remail.

    SO, only a small number of USPS employees seem to be aware of the rule or care to inforce it. As long as you don’t hit one…. you can ignore it.

    • Invader Zim says:

      its the clerk that nails me on it.

      • Hitchcock says:

        Don’t give them to the clerk. Either print it out at home, or use the machine in the lobby, and then drop it in the package drop off slot.

        (Provided your post office has one, some don’t)

  13. j2.718ff says:

    In Poland, I learned of a similar practice. The official post office has a monopoly on mailing letters. But if something was heavy enough, it can be delivered by other companies. For this reason, it is not uncommon to receive express mail (delivered by someone other than the post office) which contains a small piece of scrap metal inside.

    • KyBash says:

      Be careful with it! I’ve heard some companies use that method to get rid of slightly radioactive equipment. Mailing it in small pieces around the country is far cheaper than paying the hazardous waste fees.

  14. Cat says:

    I just put a few Tension Sheets in the envelope to make it thicker.

  15. Hotscot says:

    Where do you get the cube from?
    Do they keep a supply at the P.O?
    There’s a company whose business model is making these cubes?

    • SisterMaryPollyEsther says:

      Mail ballot printing and delivery is typically contracted to one of a few voter service vendors. Given the lengths these contractors must go to in order to comply with different states’ requirements, it’s no wonder there’s only a few of ‘em in business.

  16. sirwired says:

    I suspect it has something to do with either sorting equipment (letters don’t get run through the machines equipped with scanning gear) or the law (the legally-mandated separation between the letter and parcel business.)

  17. Guppy06 says:

    It’s simple: USPS letter-sorting equipment isn’t set up to read DC barcodes like the parcel-sorting equipment. The difference between letters and parcels is that people don’t like when their parcels get bent.

    However, I see from the picture that they’re using Endicia to print their postage. Endicia’s website allows rudimentary tracking of letters by their Intelligent Mail barcode. It’s not as rigorous as Delivery Confirmation (e.g. your letter carrier doesn’t scan it at delivery), but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than parcel rates, non-Priority e/DC rates, and silly styrafoam cubes.

  18. swedub says:

    This is unnecessary. I’ve shipped a few hundred packages in the last few years with USPS First Class & Delivery Confirmation that were less then 3/4″ thick. I only opt for the 67 cent cheaper non-tracking option for things of less concern, like cheaper items which we have a bunch of.

  19. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I read the explanation twice. I’m still confused. And tell me again why the USPS is bleeding money?

    • TheMansfieldMauler says:

      And tell me again why the USPS is bleeding money?

      I don’t know what the answer is, but whatever the answer is, it is NOT that they are a heavily unionized quazi-governmental agency. Definitely not that.

      • MrEvil says:

        Here’s why it’s not the Union’s fault: UPS is unionized with the Teamsters and they still manage to make a profit and are still the largest private parcel carrier in the US. They have twice as many employees as FedEx.

    • Tangurena says:

      Before the USPS can make any significant changes to how they operate, or what services they may (or may not) offer, they have to get Congress to approve them. When Congress has a number of politicians who want to destroy the post office, then things become muddier.

      Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution:

      >The Congress shall have Power To … establish Post Offices and post Roads…
      http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html

  20. chemmy says:

    Cute. I usually wad up a piece of paper or use a small piece of cardboard… I like this idea way better. *off to styrofoam store*

  21. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    My state sends a flat piece of foam along with an absentee ballot. I always thought it was supposed to be a backing for when punching the little circular pieces of cardboard out with each vote. At the very least, it works very well for that task when using a paperclip for voting.

  22. NarcolepticGirl says:

    Seems a little passive-agressive toward the USPS. !

    Yeah, people have been doing this for a while now.
    You should see the people on the eBay forums discussing it.

  23. SinA says:

    I’m guessing that…
    Flat mail goes right on through the reading/sorting machines and into the carrier’s bag without getting pulled for delivery confirmation.
    3/4″ must be large enough for it to get kicked out and then handled by a human being, which is what you really want.
    I’m sure there are neater solutions, but this is pretty ingenious, resourceful, and cheap.

  24. Damocles57 says:

    Short Consumerist Headline:

    Indiana Election Division chooses a USPS mail delivery option that includes Delivery Confirmation.

    Any eBay Seller who has shipped many packages and prints their own postage knows – or should know – how to find the best way to ship something to meet multiple conditions – one of which is Delivery or Signature Confirmation. It’s good to see that some local governmental agencies are finding ways to analyze different postage options and choosing one to optimize value.

    While some people may use this as an example to ridicule or criticize the USPS, I have found them to be the best and least expensive option when shipping most of my eBay items. It’s only the very heavy or very large items that get shipped via non-USPS companies.

    USPS sorting equipment and processes are designed to handle envelopes of specific sizes, shapes and weights. Packages/envelopes that don’t meet these criteria get handled differently and have different policies and procedures and pricing. It is for this reason that Netflix has envelopes larger than “necessary” to ship DVD’s – it is less expensive than sending square envelopes that don’t bend easily and are the size of the DVD being shipped.

  25. Pink Eyed Jim says:

    I’ve been selling old coins on ebay for a friend recently and upon shipping one of the coins, I recieved an irate email from a customer saying “The item was supposed to be free shipping, but my P.O. charged me $2.50 when I picked it up.” After calling the branch in question, I found this out the hard way. The snippy clerk on the line barked “because it’s a letter, not a parcel if it’s under 3/4 inch”.

    Now I tear up pieces of flat rate priority boxes (which the USPS delivers to my home for free) and fold them up and stuff a few in each envelope I mail. Saves me $2.50 on each package.

    You’ve gotta love bureaucracy…

  26. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I don’t understand why they couldn’t differentiate the difference between a parcel and a letter by using a different type of bar code, so when the machine scans the bar code on the flat package, it kicks it out for special handling, rather than putting a foam cube in the parcel that could be squished along the way.

  27. Weekilter says:

    Nice! Styrofoam isn’t even recyclable!

  28. drburk says:

    I worked a job where we sent engineering reports & environmental reports to customers, insurance companies, the court and lawyers. We sent out well in excess of 150 9×12 envelops a week. We dropped one cube in each letter to save significantly on postage. On of the attorney’s we mailed to frequently always saved the cubes and returned them to us so we could use them again. We didn’t use delivery or signature confirmation but it was still cheaper with the cube. It was also fun to build things using paperclips and the cubes. I made a santa one year for christmas.

  29. CarlS says:

    Has everyone overlooked the fact that we have a government agency (or at least an employee of ) ingeniously interpreting law to aid said agency in violating a federal regulation? Yes, I know a reg is not the same as a law, but the government at all levels, when ruling against a consumer, will most often insist a regulation is law.

    So should we congratulate the agency, or snitch them out to the feds? Do you think the feds would follow usual tactics and initiate a SWAT raid? Maybe kill a few “accidently” and then claim immunity?

    No? Why should everyday citizens be treated worse?

  30. dave731 says:

    Haha Delivery Confirmation, kind of like a tracking number but not really

  31. duffbeer703 says:

    Everyone is picking on the post office, but the real WTF here is the Indiana Elections people.

    Instead of buying styrofoam cubes and cutting out passive-aggressive notices whining about bureaucratic procedures, they could have done a few different things:

    – Used certified mail.
    – Not use tracking services.
    – Talked to the post office people about the supposed regulation, which I do not believe actually exists.