Millennials Get Blamed for a Lot, But They Could Help to Save the U.S. Postal Service

iStock
iStock

Millennials get a bad rap for destroying everything from homeownership rates to fabric softener sales, but there's one important traditional industry they're enthusiastic about: the U.S. Postal Service. According to CityLab, a new USPS report [PDF] finds that young people's appreciation for snail mail could help boost the often-struggling agency's fortunes in the future.

Probing for insights into the minds of young people ages 18 to 34 (a little off from the Pew Research Center's definition of Millennials as being people ages 22 to 37), the USPS conducted surveys and hosted live chats online to figure out what Millennials think of the agency, and how the Postal Service can ignite their love of snail mail.

That's vital, because as it is, technological innovations like email and online bill payments are putting the USPS out of business. It lost money for the 11th year in a row in 2017, and while shipping packages is getting more popular (thank you, online shopping habits), it hasn't been enough to offset the decline of mail during that year—mail rates declined by 50 billion pieces in 2017. Young people ages 18 to 34 received an average of 17 pieces of mail each week in 2001, while they only receive 10 now.

But Millennials, it turns out, love mail, even if they don't want to pay their bills with it. As the report observes, "many Millennials still delight in receiving personalized notes or cards around holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions." Three-quarters of respondents said that getting personalized mail from friends and family "makes them feel special." According to the report, around 80 percent of Millennials say they're satisfied with the USPS, around the same rate as older, stamp-loving generations. More Millennials than Boomers, meanwhile, have a USPS.com account, and 59 percent say that the USPS is an innovative organization.

Millennials mentioned several ideas for USPS improvements that already basically exist, like self-service kiosks, at-home package pickup, and Informed Delivery emails, meaning the Postal Service isn't always the best at getting the word out about the cool things it already does. The report also shows that the Postal Service is still working on an augmented reality service that could give you a look at what's inside a package before you open it. (The idea debuted in 2016, but the app was largely limited to showing animated messages.)

The surveys and discussions did come up with a new idea to endear the post office to Millennials: a rewards program. The young people surveyed suggested that members could earn points by buying stamps or mailing packages and use them to redeem discounts or enter contests.

Millennials: They may be ruining vacations, but at least they're ready to save the mail.

[h/t CityLab]

FYI: The FDA Has Ceased Its Food Inspections

istock.com/Olivier Le Moal
istock.com/Olivier Le Moal

It may be safe to eat romaine lettuce again, but The Hill is reporting that the FDA is suspending "most food inspections" amid the current partial government shutdown.

As the government shutdown rounds out its third week, the effects have begun to take a toll on both minor and major scales. Government workers are missing paychecks, affordable housing contracts are expiring, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not able to cover all of its usual duties. According to the official FDA website, around 55 percent of their $5.4 billion budget comes directly from federal funding, with the other 45 percent coming from industry user fees.

With fewer resources for protecting the nation's food supply, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb has had to delegate most workers to investigate "high risk facilities," such as those that produce seafood or cheese.

In 2018, nearly a dozen different products were cited for salmonella contamination, including raw turkey, pre-cut melon, and even Honey Smacks cereal. The FDA also warned of a possible salmonella outbreak from eggs last May.

Though the FDA will continue to inspect foreign manufacturers and products, the agency generally conducts roughly 160 food inspections per week. They look for any possible contamination due to various unclean circumstances, and that is only the beginning of a much longer process if foods actually need to be recalled. The FDA also investigates cases sent to them by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); after an illness or outbreak has been reported, the FDA works to trace where the contaminant could have come from before recalling and pulling problematic products from the shelves. All of this takes a lot of work, as we recently reported.

[h/t The Hill]

America's Paper Towel Obsession, Explained

iStock.com/Eerik
iStock.com/Eerik

At this point, the Brawny man can probably afford something nicer than a flannel shirt. Americans spend roughly $5.7 billion annually on paper towels, using them to clean up everything from spilled coffee to baby dribble to windows. Roll after roll is unspooled from a paper towel holder, makes a detour into a mess, then winds up directly in the garbage.

Are we really so lazy that we can’t wring out and reuse a sponge, a cloth wipe, or washable napkins? Or has Big Towel brainwashed us into believing that paper towels are simply the most convenient method of keeping things clean?

The question was recently explored by The Atlantic's Joe Pinsker, who noticed that Americans make up nearly half of the world’s paper towel use. (Second-place France spends just $635 million per year on discarded towels, little more than a tenth of what the U.S. shells out.) Pinsker wondered if it was due in part to population, but even on a per capita basis, we still spend more on towels than any other country in the world. Countries with comparable economies don’t buy as much as we do.

It turns out that the reasoning behind our alleged paper towel obsession may reside in how we problem-solve. In using a disposable towel, a mess can be immediately addressed and discarded, leaving no trace or obligation to clean our cleaning supplies.

There may also be pragmatic reasons: Using one-time-use towels reduces the chances of cross-contamination. (Imagine a sponge covering a bacteria-covered surface, then being set aside for reuse later.) And in a public bathroom setting, paper towels may actually be more hygienic than hand dryers, which can spread bacteria.

If you have a paper towel addiction, one tip Pinsker passed along is to consider reusing them. (Provided, of course, the mess wasn’t made up of raw meat or fish.) Sturdier paper towels can sometimes stand up to multiple applications before they start to break apart. You can also try using fewer towels by folding one in half and taking advantage of what’s known as interstitial suspension to trap water between the layers.

[h/t The Atlantic]

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