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Why Do Passports Only Come in Four Colors?

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Passports are only made in shades of blue, red, green, and black.

You might assume that this is because of regulations governing which colors passports can be, but there's actually no official rule dictating acceptable passport color. In fact, there are no rules about what passports should look like at all, only suggestions. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) makes recommendations about typeface, type size, and font in their guide for machine readable travel documents (MRTDs), a category which includes passports.

There are some hard and fast regulations in this document, however: Passports must be made of a material that bends (no creasing) and remain machine readable at temperatures ranging from 14 to 122°F and at relative air humidity ranging from five to 95 percent.

Although passports only come in these four colors, there's a lot of variation when it comes to the actual shade. Many countries opt for darker shades of blue, red, and green. The reason for the limited color choice is pretty much what you'd think: Countries choose these simple, dark hues because they look official. Millennial pink wouldn't look very bureaucratic. Dark colors are also less likely to show dirt and wear. (You can browse the world's passports with this nifty website.)

Anthony Philbin, ICAO’s chief communications officer, confirmed to Travel + Leisure that when it comes to passports, “Nothing stipulates the cover color.” Basically, there's nothing stopping the United States from making its passports lime green except a sense of propriety. William Waldron, the vice president of security products at Holliston, LLC (which makes passports for more than 60 countries) told Travel + Leisure that they can manufacture “any color that’s in the Pantone book.”

There's often meaning behind which of the four colors a country chooses. For example, most Islamic states use green passports because the color is significant in their religion. Though the majority of passports issued in the U.S. today are blue, that change came about in 1976, as part of the bicentennial celebration; prior to that, from 1941 to 1976, American passports were green—a color that made a triumphant return between 1993 and 1994 and included a special tribute to Benjamin Franklin.

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Big Questions
What’s the Difference Between Prison and Jail?
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Many people use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, and while both terms refer to areas where people are held, there's a substantial difference between the two methods of incarceration. Where a person who is accused of a crime is held, and for how long, is a factor in determining the difference between the two—and whether a person is held in a jail or a prison is largely determined by the severity of the crime they have committed.

A jail (or, for our British friends, a gaol) refers to a small, temporary holding facility—run by local governments and supervised by county sheriff departments—that is designed to detain recently arrested people who have committed a minor offense or misdemeanor. A person can also be held in jail for an extended period of time if the sentence for their offense is less than a year. There are currently 3163 local jail facilities in the United States.

A jail is different from the similarly temporary “lockup”—sort of like “pre-jail”—which is located in local police departments and holds offenders unable to post bail, people arrested for public drunkenness who are kept until they are sober, or, most importantly, offenders waiting to be processed into the jail system.

A prison, on the other hand, is usually a large state- or federal-run facility meant to house people convicted of a serious crime or felony, and whose sentences for those crimes surpass 365 days. A prison could also be called a “penitentiary,” among other names.

To be put in a state prison, a person must be convicted of breaking a state law. To be put in a federal prison, a person must be convicted of breaking federal law. Basic amenities in a prison are more extensive than in a jail because, obviously, an inmate is likely to spend more than a year of his or her life confined inside a prison. As of 2012, there were 4575 operating prisons in the U.S.—the most in the world. The country with the second highest number of operating prisons is Russia, which has just 1029 facilities.

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What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
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Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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